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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  • 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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