At launch, there were really just two Athlon 64 chipsets - the nVidia nForce3 150 and VIA K8T800. As we have discussed in reviews of boards based on these chipsets, neither one really meets the specifications that we would like to see in Athlon 64 chipsets. Later, SiS introduced the promising 755 chipset, but no one has brought the kind of 755 boards that we hoped to see to market. In addition, our recent tests of the PCI locks on all 3 Athlon 64 chipsets found that none of them really worked. Given this background, we were more than ready for a new chipset for Athlon 64 that would fix many of the issues.

nVidia has stated all along that nForce3-150 was an interim chipset. The 150 chipset was criticized widely for using just 600 HyperTransport when the AMD specification was 800, and almost everyone found fault with the out-dated feature set with nF3-150. In fairness, we could find no performance differences at all between the VIA 800HT and the nVidia 600HT in tests of Socket 754 Athlon 64, but there was certainly no compelling reason to choose nF3-150 over the more feature-rich solutions from both VIA and SiS. With VIA and SiS, you also did not have to compromise on HyperTransport speed since both run at 800HT.

The non-working PCI lock that we later found on nF3-150 also came as a huge surprise. nVidia tells us, and we did confirm, that the PCI lock does work on the nVidia Reference Board for nF3-150, but they are also aware that it did not work in production nF3-150 motherboards. nVidia assures us that this BIOS programming issue is fixed in nF3-250.

Into this very confusing climate for Athlon 64 chipsets, nVidia is launching the completely revised nForce3-250. The market for Athlon 64 is now growing rapidly, and nVidia simply wants to be the only choice for the gamer and computer enthusiast when buying an Athlon 64. This time around, nVidia certainly looks like they have the goods to make nForce3-250 everything that the market is looking for.

Since there is so much that is new in the nForce3-250, the review will come to you in two parts. Part 1 takes a close look at the features of nForce3-250; Part 2 will concentrate on actual performance of the nForce3-250 Reference Board compared to other Athlon 64 boards that we have tested. Since nVidia claims that nForce3-250 performs best with nVidia's latest graphics cards, benchmarks will also compare performance of an nVidia 5950 Ultra, 9800 XT, and our standard ATI 9800 PRO on the nF3-250 chipset.

A Closer Look at the nForce3-250 Family
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  • draven31 - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    Yes, the lack of PCI Express is a disappointment

    But, so is the lack of PCI-X. It means that system integrators and postproduction facilities will be hesitant about using NF3-250 motherboards for workstations because a significant portion of the current NLE cards want at least a 64-bit PCI slot, if not a PCI-X 66, 100, or 133.

    This lack of PCI-X slots on Athlon64 motherboards (you have to get a dual opteron board to get them) means i may have to go Intel for my next systems, and i was really hoping to get an Athlon64 because Lightwave runs best on them overall.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #49 -
    I heartily DISAGREE with your conclusions. As you will see soon enough DDR2 is at present the same performance as DDR (at best) at twice the price or more. While I do appreciate the potential of DDR2, the current execution is like Prescott - much ado about very little.

    As for your bandwidth, we are talking about an Athlon 64 and NOT an Intel CPU. Intel design and deep pipes keep it constantly starved for bandwidth; A64 on the other hand has been shown to perform just about as well with current single-channel DDR as it does with much greater bandwidth dual-channel DDR. This actual performance certainly refutes your claim for the A64 "needing DDR2". Even dual-channel is more a checklist item most consumers demand than it is a huge performance booster on A64. But dual-cahnnel will indeed be a part of socket 939 - doubling memory bandwidth for an Athlon 64 that already competes quite well with single-channel memory.

    I do agree with your point about hard-drive throughput, and there is little to complain about in the nF3-250Gb design in that regard.

    Talk to memory manufacturers about DDR2. Most are extremely frustrated at having to add huge buffering to even get the 533 stuff to work. In addition latencies are so high at 4-4-4-8 that any performance gain is pretty much nullified. And the cost is prohibitive (sound like early Rambus?). Things WILL improve with time on DDR2, but your sweeping pronouncements are just misinformed.

    Reply
  • jcoltrin - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    PCI Express and Hyperthreading won't make a bit of difference in today's games. The only benefit I can think of with nForce3 is *maybe* better sound, and gigabit LAN. PCI Express has been shown to only produce minimal effects on fps, and who cares about hyperthreading unless you enjoy burning CD's and compressing your latest movie while playing a FPS. What this chipset really needed, and the ref . board doesn't support is DDR2. Memory bandwidth and SATA hard drives are the only thing that's going to unleash the power of our already over-kill video cards and load the expansive levels in an acceptable time. Why this article failed to acknowledge this I don't understand. Reply
  • Reflex - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #46: For purely gaming purposes the Soundstorm does an adequate job. No complaints there. But many people use their PC for more than gaming, and anyone who cares about the actual quality of the sound coming out, especially for music playback would care about the differences. Yes the S/N ratio is very poor on SoundStorm setups. Anyone who cares about excellent reproduction would not be using SPDIF cables as well, they would demand a coax solution for digital output(Turtle Beach SC for instance offers this).

    Like I said, it was a leap over what was included on motherboards when it was first released, but it has stagnated since then and the competition is far ahead now. Even Creative Labs, which is not even remotely close to being a leader in sound quality, is far beyond the SoundStorm nowadays. Now give me a SS solution with 24/96 capabilities and 106 S/N ratio and they would be back in the hunt. But that won't happen, nVidia is not a audio company.
    Reply
  • Pumpkinierre - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    The dually is good if you're running a game and other apps even if they are single threaded. I don't of course but many do, to switch quickly to avoid the boss or for 10 minutes relaxation while working. There is some loss of performance as a result of the cpus watching each other but with the present design and power of the opteron it wouldnt be noticeable. I'd like a dually.

    Reply
  • BikeDude - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #41: Soundstorm=poor quality in what way? S/N? I'm using the SPDIF connector and get 5.1 surround in most of today's games and DVD movies. What other audio solution features Dolby encoding in hardware? I have not seen (heard) one yet.

    SoundStorm is the only audio solution that offers Audigy2 much competition when it comes to CPU usage in games.

    When something better appears, I'll switch in a second, but for now I dread my next motherboard upgrade as it'll mean I'll have to go back to standard audiocables again (and no less than three at that, in addition to the SPDIF cable!). :-(

    As for USB2: It sucks. Compare external drive solutions, the old firewire400 interface wins every time. If nVidia has really cut firewire support, lets atleast hope they get USB 2.0 support right this time. I had to install an extra USB 2.0 controller to get my Thrustmaster FF wheel working for more than five minutes at a time (I tried with both Epox 8RDA3+ and ABit AN7 motherboards).
    Reply
  • GoatHerderEd - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #44:
    My bro is a BeOS fan too! How fun is that?
    Reply
  • iwantedT - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    personally i wouldnt mind a dual cpu a64 solution. In my experience, it means a hell of a lot more time between upgrades. Hell, i've even still got a dual celeron 500 bp6 setup that is quite usable still, even tho its running BeOS, ie. support is kinda dead :) Reply
  • ripdude - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Good article I must say, though the lack of PCI-Express is a small disappointment.

    Also, the conclusion states that socket 939 is a couple of months away, is there a bit more certain release date? Perhaps somewhere in april/may?
    Reply
  • Reflex - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Trogdor: Yes multi-threading is more complicated, however its a shift that everyone *is* making. There is really very little excuse to make single threaded applications on today's hardware and operating system environments, its an issue more of an established method of doing things giving way *very* slowly to new ways. For an industry that embraces most new technology, its strange that they did not change their design philosophies long ago, really once Win9x(and Pentium CPU's) became a standard the infrastructure was in place... Reply

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