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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  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    Once again, the only person who said anything about gaming performance and dual CPU rigs in reference to today's environment is you, Prisoner. I fire up a game on my PC maybe once a month, so honestly buying ANY pc component for gaming reasons is more than a little rediculous in my case(thats what I have an Xbox for).

    However I have plenty of reasons to run dual CPU's, I mess around with making my own DVD's, occasionally I am known to compile a kernel, etc. These are becoming increasingly popular in the average home as well, especially with DVD recorders getting cheap and people wanting to convert those home movies.

    As for games, my only point was that the installed base is being created now. I'd recon that at this point there are more HT compatible P4's sold than there are NV30 or R300 class and higher graphics cards on the market, and they are already developing games targetted for those platforms. All it really would take is Epic and id making their next generation engines more multi-threading friendly and you'd see mass adoption since those engines form the basis for a huge number of games. The potential for major increases in gaming performance is there, it just has not been tapped yet.

    However, as I said, gaming is a relatively *minor* reason for dual CPU adoption. Believe it or not, most people don't do any sort of serious gaming on their PC, so it would really never be much of a selling point...
    Reply
  • JADS - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #27 what is your obsession with games? Anyway my argument that dual CPU systems are highly relevant to enthusiasts stands and that has very little to do with games and more with multi-tasking and highly demanding applications such as video editing, image rendering, code compilation, server duties, etc...

    Anyway the gap between a dual and single CPU systems with regards to games really is quite small these days and mostly it is down to the board in question being focussed on stability and reliability rather than outright performance. I'm guessing you wouldn't want for games performance from a dual Athlon FX-53 system on an nVidia nForce3-250 chipset.
    Reply
  • AMDfreak - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    I'll be waiting for PCI Express versions too. It doesn't appear that the jump to A64 is going to give me enough of a speed increase over an OC'd Barton until I'm ready to replace my 9800 Pro anyway. Reply
  • truApostle - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    all your base belong to them Reply
  • prisoner881 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #24 and #25, the idea of buying "ahead of the curve" for technology has historically been a stupid, cost-ineffective idea. Buying a duallie system today (at mucho $$$) because you expect to find duallie-ready games in the next three to five years is just dumb use of your money. I say three to five years because that's how long it's going to be before gaming companies produce software that either demands dual CPU's or demands Hyperthreading. In the meantime, you'll have one very expensive processor on a very expensive motherboard just sitting around twiddling its thumbs. And by the time these games DO come out, both of your CPU's (and very likely your motherboard as well) will be obsolete. Such is the way of things.

    Now, one of you DID touch on a good reason to get a duallie system, namely if you're doing compute-intensive stuff like 3D rendering. I happen to do that for a living, and I've got 8 dual Athlon systems in a render farm. Much more cost effective than single CPU systems, but none of them will ever win any points in a gaming match.
    Reply
  • agent2099 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    AC97 Audio? This is a step backwards from Nforce2. Where is the MCP-T?
    Reply
  • JADS - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #22 I didn't say specifically for games, I said enthusiast. A dual CPU system is inherently more flexible, be it compiling code faster, to rendering pictures quicker to multi-tasking using many apps. How many enthsiasts simply run one program at a time? I know I don't and could make use of a powerful dual CPU system.

    Dual CPU systems do not need to run with ECC/Registered memory although typically due to the target market this is a feature. Running a dual processor FX system with standard DDR memory could be a very fast and cost effective machine.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #22: I agree with you until you get to the part about 'never will'. HyperThreading is making developers consider making thier apps multi-threaded, and starting sometime next year multi-core CPU's will be introduced most likely. When most machines sold have the ability to process more than one thread at a time, it would be pretty stupid to ignore that factor.

    So for now, multiple CPU's is not that helpful for *gaming*, although it is for many other applications. In the future, however, I expect it to be very helpful for everything, including gaming.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #4 -
    Ass-kissing has never been my forte. I consider myself an equal-opportunity offender. After finding none of the AGP locks worked on Round 1 chipsets, you better believe I would test for myself whatever I am told about the new boards.

    Frankly I really like nF3-250GB, but I also hear good things about SiS 755FX for 939 (1200HT) and VIA's update for 939. After some of the crap we've had to endure with Round 1 chipsets, it will be nice to have some good Athlon 64 choices in Round 2.
    Reply
  • prisoner881 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #20, gamers that buy dual-CPU systems are just being stupid. Practically no game out there makes good use of more than one CPU, and none are planned. Add to that the overhead of having additional CPU's in the system, the cost of a dual system versus a single, and the slower memory (Reg'd ECC), and you've got a tremendous waste of money. I have *never* seen a dual-CPU game box outrun a single-CPU game box, and I doubt we ever will. Reply

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