While we briefly touched on the external appearance on the previous page, we focused on taking the thing apart and looking at what's under the heatsink. With that out of the way, it's time to look at the card's external appearance.
With the GeForce 9800 GX2, Nvidia has moved away from what many of us would consider to be 'conventional' graphics card design, taking the whole consumer-friendly product stance a little further – it's an interesting change of direction and I guess it's something that is required if Nvidia is to appeal to a much wider market than it currently does.
The card has been designed in such a way that it fits inside a complete enclosure with no visible traces exposed—with an exception made for the SLI connector and the PCI-Express interconnect. This helps to protect the card from damage and static discharge – that'll be great for those of you that seem to conduct electricity through everything you touch.
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Nvidia claims that the enclosed design "improves the look and feel of the product." While that's true to an extent, one thing about the design that disappointed us was the paint finish – it's not a bad finish, per-se, but it's even more of a fingerprint magnet than the GeForce 8800 GT was and because the whole card is enclosed, there is no getting away from covering the card in fingerprints... short of wearing white cotton gloves whenever you handle the card. We would have preferred a finish like the one on the GeForce 8800 Ultra... or alternatively some love handles, or something just to grab hold of without covering your prized possession in fingerprints.
The SLI connector is hidden behind a piece of plastic that, frankly speaking, isn't up to the same high quality as the rest of the card. It just feels a little clumsy and as if it was an afterthought – it's not only difficult to remove the connector, but when you do remove it, you'll probably lose it on the floor. This isn't a big issue of course, but it just feels a bit 'meh' in my opinion.
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From looking at the card, you'll notice that the fan is completely enclosed inside the card as well. Nvidia claims that the card is quiet, but I have to report that the card did spin up during some of our gaming sessions and it was audible above other system noise. This isn't a problem when the card is sitting idle (or switched off when Hybrid SLI motherboards arrive) and it shouldn't be an issue when you're fragging because you'll have headphones on.
XFX has of course added its own ingredients into the mix as well, covering the card in XFX branding. I have to say I really like the artwork—not that it's overly important on a graphics card that'll go relatively unnoticed in your case—and I think it adds to the overall design of the card, rather than taking away from it like we've seen with some graphics cards in the past.
On the PCI bracket, there are three display output connectors—two dual-link DVI-I connectors and an HDMI v1.3 socket (all support HDCP). The HDMI connector can carry audio via an S/PDIF connector located near to the power connectors on the card. This may sound attractive at first, but there are some limitations – more on that in a minute because there are some other things that need to be covered first...