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The cards: GeForce GTX 280 and 260
The GT200 GPU will initially ship in two different models of video cards from a variety of Nvidia partners. The board you see below is an example of the big daddy, the GeForce GTX 280, as it will ship from XFX. This is the full-throttle implementation of the GT200, with all 240 SPs and eight ROP partitions active. The GTX 280's core clock speed wll be 602MHz, with SPs clocked at 1296MHz. It comes with a full gigabyte of GDDR3 memory running at 1107MHz, for an effective 2214MT/s.

Obviously, this board has a dual-slot cooler, and it's covered in a full complement of body armor composed half of metal (mostly around back) and half of plastic (you figure it out). We first saw this all-encompassing shroud treatment in the GeForce 9800 GX2. I suppose it's possible this provision could actually reduce return rates on the cards simply by protecting them from rough handling or—heh—would-be volt-modders. I worry about the shroud trapping in heat, but I noticed when tearing one apart that the metal plate on the back side of the card apparently acts as a heat radiator for the memory chips mounted back there.

From end to end, the GTX 280 card is 10.5" long and, as I've mentioned, its TDP is 236W. To keep this puppy fed, you'll need a PSU with one eight-pin PCIe aux power connector and one six-pin one.

As with the 9800 GX2, the GTX 280's SLI connectors are covered by a rubber cap, to keep the "black monolith" design theme going. Popping it off reveals dual connectors, threatening the prospect of three-way GTX 280 SLI. Heck, the only really exposed bit of the GTX 280 is the PCIe x16 connector, which is (of course) PCIe 2.0 compliant.

Oddly enough, the GTX 280 is slated to be available not today, but tomorrow, June 17th. You will be expected to pay roughly $649 for the privilege of owning one, which is, you know, a lot. If it's any consolation, the XFX version of the GTX 280 ships with a copy of Assassin's Creed, which is stellar as far as bundled games go and a nice showcase for the GTX 280.

The GeForce GTX 260 appears to use the same basic board design and cooler as the GTX 280, but it gets by with two six-pin aux power connectors. This card uses a somewhat stripped-down version of the GTX 280, with two thread processing clusters and one ROP partition disabled. As a result, the GTX 260 has 192 stream processors, a 448-bit path to memory, and reduced texturing and pixel-pushing power compared to the GTX 280. Clock rates are 576MHz for the core, 1242MHz SPs, and 999MHz memory. The deletion of one memory interface also brings another quirk: the GTX 260's total memory size is 896MB, which is kinda weird but probably harmless.

Initially, Nvidia told us to expect GTX 260 cards to sell for $449, but last week, they revised the price down to $399. Could they be anticipating potent competition from the Radeon camp, or are they just feeling generous? Who knows, but we'll take the lower price. GeForce GTX 260 cards aren't slated for availability until June 26. By then, we expect to see another interesting option in the market, as well.

Here's a quick picture of a GTX 260 card completely stripped of its shroud and cooler. I had a devil of a time removing that stuff. The GT200 GPU remains enormous.