Discussion in 'Graphics Cards' started by MUSTANGPC, Jan 11, 2002.



    Nvidia Makes the Right Move
    By Vince Freeman

    A-La-Carte Video Makes nForce a Top Contender
    About a month ago, I had a chance to voice my concerns about the Nvidia nForce chipset in a conversation with the firm's PR department. After discussing everything from the low-end nature of the chipset's integrated GeForce2 MX video to the high retail prices of nForce motherboards, I was asked what I would like to see from Nvidia in the near future. The first words I blurted out were, "A nonintegrated nForce that would compete head-to-head against the VIA KT266A."

    Instead of hanging up on me, Nvidia admitted that it was working on exactly that product -- and yesterday, it went on sale. The AMD-compatible nForce 415-D is an impressive revision that will make a big splash in the motherboard chipset market.

    The nForce 415-D represents a further segmentation of the nForce line. The original nForce 420-D is undeniably a high-performance product, but its built-in GeForce2 MX graphics core simply cut Nvidia off from too many potential markets. Enthusiasts and gamers have no real use for the outdated MX core, and would instead raid the GeForce3 line for their performance fix. The same goes for graphics pros, who'd likely upgrade their nForce systems to a Quadro or Fire GL-based card in no time flat. And home and business PC buyers who'd find the GeForce2 MX more than adequate for their needs might be put off by the nForce's higher price compared to value solutions like the VIA KM133.

    This is not to say the nForce 420-D isn't a successful chipset, but the "integrated video tax" that many buyers had to pay to buy into the platform stunted its overall impact. If the new 415-D had been released concurrently with the 420-D, the KT266A may not have reached such a high level of market acceptance.

    With the nForce 415-D, everything changes. Nvidia has wisely deleted the GeForce2 MX video portion of the 415-D design, while keeping its other integrated sound and networking components. This creates a more open platform that offers a choice of add-in graphics cards, without forcing users to pay for integrated video they probably won't use. In one fell swoop, it answers the main complaint leveled against the nForce -- while letting Nvidia follow the chipset's high-priced, early-adopter introduction with a hard push into the mass market.

    Integrated Video Urban Myths
    There were many intangibles that affected the perception of the initial nForce 420-D. Integrated video has a long and mostly sordid history; I'm sure most of us can dredge up horror stories of integrated graphics controllers that refused to turn off or clashed with add-in AGP or PCI cards. Put frankly, onboard video has a bad rep, and quite a few potential buyers have expressed concerns regarding the "auto-detect" nature of the 420-D.

    If there's one lesson to be learned about integrated components, it's that buyers feel more secure when they have a hardware switch or jumper to disable. I've seen forum and Usenet questions about whether the nForce will work with an ATI card or whether anyone had problems with certain other brands or types of graphics accelerators.

    Once you toss out the integrated video and opt for the nForce 415-D, these questions, concerns, and legends melt away, and all you're left with is a desirable product. The other integrated portions of the nForce get nowhere near the same criticism; in fact, they're viewed as excellent features by the majority of potential customers, as onboard sound and networking options are becoming almost required features on any new motherboard chipset.

    The audio and network features of the nForce are also some of the best in the business, and Nvidia will offer only its best "Premium Sound" with the 415-D. Also called "Xbox Audio" in company literature, this is one of the most sophisticated and full-featured sound options available; it's an option on the 420-D, along with the standard 3D audio MCP (Media and Communications Processor). Networking is also well served with integrated support for 10/100BaseT Ethernet, a business essential, and HomePNA 2.0 phoneline networking, which until wireless really takes off is a helpful solution for most home users.

    And It's Fast, Too
    Most important, nForce performance is also topnotch -- just a bit faster than the impressive KT266A, and a viable challenger to the high-end Intel platforms as well. Nvidia's 128-bit TwinBank memory controller is a real powerhouse, and with the right setup offers the highest level of memory bandwidth available in a DDR desktop platform.

    The nForce 415-D retains the original's HyperTransport system bus, which offers an impressive 800MB/sec of data bandwidth. The combination of integrated components and high-speed memory and system bus controllers give the nForce a potential advantage in overall performance. It's an area that some evaluations overlook, but I've heard many user compliments on how smoothly an nForce system can handle multiple tasks such as burning a CD-RW while listening to a music CD and playing a demanding Internet game.

    Of course, not all is wine and roses. Although Nvidia has crammed the nForce with impressive components, its peripheral support continues to be behind the times: The first nForce included ATA/100 (not /133) and USB 1.1 (not 2.0) as default options, and it doesn't look as if the 415-D will change this formula.

    Nevertheless, as you can see, this chipset release brings many side benefits apart from its technical specs. In deleting the controversial integrated video (while still making it available as a value-added option), Nvidia has ensured that the performance negatives associated with the GeForce2 MX core will no longer dominate any nForce conversations.

    Having tested nForce systems exhaustively, I suspect the 415-D could be about as close to a perfect AMD platform as we could expect. Now, if MSI, ASUS, and Abit will implement a few of its nifty onboard networking features as defaults, there may be no stopping the nForce 415-D.

    January 9, 2002
  2. max

    max Guest

    Thanks :)