A Closer Look at the nForce3-250 Family



The nVidia Reference Board was shipped with the latest nForce3-250Gb chipset. Gb stands for Gigabit, which refers to the included on-chip Gigabit Ethernet. The Reference Board also included 1000MHz HyperTransport, but this is a concession to the Reference Board and is not a feature for Socket 754 boards. Basically, there are currently two 250 chipsets for Socket 754 Athlon 64:

1. nForce3-250 - basic value chipset for 754, 800HT, does not include on-chip Gigabit LAN or on-chip Firewall.
2. nForce3-250Gb - 800HT, includes Gigabit LAN and on-chip Firewall.

With the coming introduction of Socket 939, there will also be two additional versions of the chipset introduced:

3. nForce3-250Gb Ultra - 1000HT, Gigabit LAN, Firewall, Dual-Channel unbuffered, for Athlon 64/Athlon 64 FX.
4. nForce3-250Gb Ultra PRO - 1000HT, Gigabit LAN, Firewall, for Opteron.

To make the 4 versions even more interesting, the Ultra can even be used for Socket 754 processors if the manufacturer chooses. In fact, there are designs for top Athlon 64 boards that nVidia says will use the Ultra chipset to provide 1000 HyperTransport to Socket 754. This would, theoretically, bring added overclocking headroom to current Athlon 64 CPU's. In fact, the nVidia Reference Board that we received used the Ultra chip and provided 1000 HyperTransport. We can confirm that dropping the multiplier to 9.5, and dropping HT to 800 allowed us to reach 250 FSB easily, which was the FSB limit on the Reference Board - all at default voltage.

To add even more to the pot, all of the nF3-250 versions of the chipset can be used in Multiple Processor designs. If the manufacturer chooses, any of the chipsets can be used theoretically in 1, 2, 4, 8, or even 16 CPU setups. Of course, the capabilities of the processors available for any given board will have an impact on how far you can go with multiple CPUs.

With the nForce3-250, nVidia also takes a giant leap in features to make the new chipset second to none. Features that are now part of the single-chip nForce3-250Gb MCP include 8 SATA ports, 4-channel SATA RAID plus 4-Channel IDE RAID, on-chip Gigabit Ethernet, on-chip Firewall, and software 6-channel audio.

Index nForce3-250 Specifications
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  • Visual - Friday, March 26, 2004 - link

    This chipset looks promising, I like it. And a great article about it :)

    I'm a bit curious about the raid - do you guys think it may be possible to implement a hot-swappable raid array with integrated raid controllers anytime soon?

    Maybe you can make an article testing the performance boost from using a 4-drive raid 0 array with this baby?

    Another thing that interests me - are there any mobos with IGP for Athlon64? I know it won't be a performer, I'm just curious if it even exists. Also is anything being heared about some new DX9 IGP anytime soon(hopefully with this chipset)? It'd also be cool if having an AGP card doesn't disable the IGP, like the ati-intel chipsets... Well I guess I'm dreaming now, but I'd like to see your comments or any info you have on nVidia's IGP plans. I guess you AT folks could ask nVidia about this :)

    Thanks,
    Visual
    Reply
  • Reflex - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    #59: Try measuring your bandwidth with a 4 drive RAID 0 array using fast drives on that setup and then put the same array in an Intel or AMD chipset system. nVidia's PCI implementation is not very good at all. Reply
  • MichaelD - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    [q] Actually, to date nVidia has had a *very* troublesome PCI implementation, anyone with a PCI RAID controller and a 4 disk RAID 0 array can tell you that. It is so bad, in fact, that prototype NF3-150 boards for Opteron used AMD PCI chips just to avoid using the nForce3 integrated PCI bus. I am not certain if these boards ever reached production status however.[/q]

    Uh, no. Not in my experience. On my 8RDA+, I've used:

    Highpoint ATA133 Contoller Card
    3Ware7000-2 Two-channel IDE RAID card
    LSI Megaraid 1600 SCSI RAID card

    I've had zero problems. Wha'chu talkin' bout, Willis?
    Reply
  • Reflex - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    #55: I did not say DDR2 was needed right now, its not and AMD is making the right decision. I was just pointing out that the latency penalty should not be a real issue since it moves more data. But time will tell.

    #54: I have not checked out the Catalina yet, however if it does not have a coax output, it will not find a home in my setup. SPDIF is a consumer level technology, championed by Sony, but it is not as high quality as coax simply due to the fact that the signal must be converted twice(to and from optical) which is never a good thing. Furthermore, the cables are frail and expensive. Professional level equipment never has SPDIF, it uses coax exclusively.

    Wesley: Glad they are dropping SoundStorm. Waste of time and effort in my opinion.
    Reply
  • BikeDude - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    Thanks Wesley; a single chip implementation makes sense. Now show us the benchmarks! :) Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    #54 and others regarding Sound Storm -

    1 - nVidia is committed to the one-chip chipset for Athlon 64. They are firmly convinced that the one-chip eliminates the potential bottlenecks of a north-south bridge communications bus. Even with the the memory controller on the chip there is only so much real estate practically available on a single-chip chipset.

    2 - Customer surveys by nVidia found that most buyers did not use Sound Storm, and that Sound Storm did not enter heavily into the decision to buy nForce. So the decision was made to choose the on-chip LAN, firewall, and much-expanded RAID capabilities which benefit greatly from being moved off the bus.

    3 - There are new sound solutions in the works for nVidia. You may see them in a future chipset or on a sound card. Final decisions have not been made.
    Reply
  • Pumpkinierre - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    #53, I'll believe it when I see the tests. It sounds like RAMBUS- that was supposed to be better at latency but turned out the opposite at over twice the cost at the time. Read the last paragraph of Wesley's post(#50)- he's closer to the industry and there are others expressing similar concerns. All these are things that Intel with its resources should iron out and AMD come in when its sorted, If AMD get to a third of the market and in the black then it can show leadership in these areas. Meanwhile stick to what they are best at cpus.
    Reply
  • BikeDude - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    #48: Turtle Beach Catalina which I suspect is a newer card (it's more expensive :) ) than SC, seem to tout optical SPDIF output as a feature (doesn't mention coax at all) and it's merely pass-through SPDIF at that (no hardware Dolby encoding -- thus I'll end up with the additional three audio cables again). Are you sure you have all your facts straight?

    If you're a professional musician -- I agree, the SS isn't for you, but I thought nForce was primarily a chipset targetted at gamers?
    Reply
  • Reflex - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    #52: Latency ends up about the same due to the fact that twice the operations per clock are happening in the same span as regular DDR. It does not, however, give you any real benefit, just higher scalability. The lack of DDR2 support also really has nothing to do with the chipset, its a CPU feature on Athlon64/FX architecture's, not a chipset one, so people bemoaning the lack of DDR2 need to look at AMD, not nVidia.

    Like I said before, the only feature needed from my point of view is PCI Express. I refuse to buy anymore PCI or AGP devices at this point knowing that in a year or two they will be useless. Unlike my CPU, I don't often change out my sound card, motherboard, SCSI card, or other such devices, so when it comes time to upgrade my system, PCI Express will be the order of the day for me.
    Reply
  • Pumpkinierre - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    Good to see your real opinions, wesley #50. I too am worried about this slow latency DDR2 particularly with the a64 where I see system memory latency as being the bottleneck for improved gaming speed. AMD have got themselves a winner with a64/newcastle but still have mainboard issues as well as heavy debt. In these conditions, good poker dictates that you play conservatively. So I'm quite happy to see only DDR1 and PCI on the nF3-250 for the moment.
    Reply

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