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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  • prisoner881 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #18, I know it's full duplex, but even then you will have a hard time getting full utlization under normal working conditions. Benchmarks are designed to run things at unrealistic rates. The point is, although I don't encourage it, you can certainly put Gigabit on the PCI bus and get very usable performance out of it. In most cases, the limiting factor is going to be CPU utilization anyway. Reply
  • JADS - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    External HDDs could make good use of a Firewire connection, especially now it is whizzing along at 800MBit/s.

    The multi CPU implementation sounds interesting, of course AMD will completely fail to capitalise on it by not making the FX dual processor capable. How many enthusiasts (AMD wise) could resist the chance of dual FX-53s, especially with the possibility of overclocking them? You have the distinction between the 2xx series and the FX due the removal of ECC/Registered memory in the FX 939 series, so they essentially serve two different markets.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    Why would you need firewire with USB2? OK, ipod and camcorders.

    I have one question. Since you use a browser to configure the firewall, does this mean it is OS independant, i.e., I can use it in Linux without needing drivers to run it?
    Soundstorm not present on here, oh well, almost all uATX boards had the MCP and not MCP-T so it didn't matter anyhow, and it doesn't work in Linux anyhow. VIA sound is troublesome in Linux too. I rather use my own sound card. Just hope there is a driver for the cool LAN adapter.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #10 -
    LAN is Duplex. Gigabit on PCI with overhead can do about 820mb/sec in industry standard tests. nVidia's on-chip LAN could output about 1840 mb/sec in the benchmarks we have seen. This is more than twice as fast IF you have a source that can actually output 1GB in both directions.

    #11 -
    PCI Express will be seen on Intel boards very soon. AMD boards will not move as rapidly to the Intel PCI Express standard.

    #12 -
    Firewire is not on-chip. Undoubtedly many mfgs will add firewire with an additional chip on-board nF3-250.
    Reply
  • fla56 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    ''No one can possibly complain about the feature-set of nForce3-250''

    to add my vote to what's already been said, no firewire for my iPod and no SoundStorm/DolbyDigital for that lovely Yamaha amp I just bought mean i think someone needs to calm down a little about all that excitement (and learn a little about the difference between megabits and bytes by the sound of things)

    i wonder if they'll release Soundstorm as a PCI eXpress card....
    Reply
  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    #8: 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.

    As for this chipset, it looks nice, but honestly I'll wait until there is a PCI Express solution out there, I was just forced due to power problems destroying my equipment to upgrade my motherboard prematurely, and I don't intend to buy another until the next wave of features is available...
    Reply
  • DAPUNISHER - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    Keep your eyes open for my AN50R listing for sale at rock bottom pricing in the FS/FT forum when the 250 is on shelves :D Reply
  • fla56 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    Reply
  • prisoner881 - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    Looks like another error on the "Conclusion" page. Last sentence, second paragraph says "We expect that some enterprising companies, which specializes in catering to the computer enthusiast, will slip in some Socket 954 boards based on the Ultra chipset with a Gigahertz HyperTransport."

    Socket 954? Methinks that ought to be Socket 754.
    Reply
  • arswihart - Tuesday, March 23, 2004 - link

    What about firewire connectors, do you guys think they'll be added to production boards? Reply

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