One of the nice things about a two-part review is that you get to address things you may have overlooked in Part 1. Since there has been so much discussion about Sound Storm in the comments for Part 1, a little more information about the sound capabilities of nForce3-250Gb is needed.

It was a bit surprising to see so much commentary about Sound Storm being absent from nF3-250Gb, since it was first removed from the previous generation nF3-150. There are several reasons Sound Storm is not a part of nForce3-250Gb:
  • 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.
  • nVidia is committed to the one-chip chipset solution 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 memory controller on the CPU, there is only so much real estate practically available on a single-chip chipset.
  • 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.
nVidia includes the hooks for AC '97 6-channel audio in nForce3-250, much like competing Athlon 64 chipsets. This also means premium audio can be provided with the right Codec.

The other area that was questioned was nVidia's competence to deliver a decent RAID solution, given the past problems with IDE performance on earlier MCP platforms. We will provide a few disk benchmarks in the Performance tests. However, from a user's point of view, the memory testbed uses the same model SATA 10,000 rpm drives in an Intel RAID array that are being used in the nForce3-250Gb Reference Board RAID. We have not been a fan of past nVidia Disk solutions and normally skipped their IDE drivers, but this time around, the performance has been extremely stable and far less finicky than the Intel setup we use for testing. Keep in mind that this is a Reference Board; we will feel much more comfortable in reaching a conclusion about IDE/RAID stability and performance after testing production motherboards. One other point is that nF3-250Gb was shipped with prototype version 4.04 nForce Platform drivers, which have not yet been released.

There were also emails with questions about software that is part of the nForce3-250 package. This is also related to the Platform Drivers 4.04 and the BIOS of shipping motherboards, but the Reference Board has a very useful System Utility that allows basic overclocking (but no CPU multiplier option). The nVidia System Utility has been available since last fall, but only works if the board manufacturer enables it in BIOS. Also included is a working nVidia DVD Player à la ATI, a very flexible nVRAID Manager, and the usual nVidia Mixer for audio. Version 4.04 Platform drivers for Win2K/XP include:
  • Audio driver version 4.09
  • Audio utility version 4.09
  • Win2K Ethernet driver version 4.16
  • Win2K Ethernet NRM driver version 4.16
  • Network management tools version 4.16
  • GART driver version 3.77 (WHQL) with updated uninstaller files
  • Memory controller driver version 3.38 (WHQL) with updated uninstaller files
  • SMBus driver version 4.04 (WHQL) with updated uninstaller files
  • Installer version 4.16
  • Win2K IDE 2.5 driver version 4.15
Other questions regarded Linux support on nForce3-250Gb. nVidia emphasizes full support for Linux in their literature for nF3-250. We were assured that nF3-250 features will have drivers available for Linux if they are needed, and that all features will work in Linux. Linux users should be reassured to know that Linux was a significant part of the nVidia presentation - not a thrown-in afterthought as we often see when it comes to Linux.

nForce3-250Gb: IDE and RAID Benchmarks
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  • Brickster - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    Can one expect the following from nf3-250?

    -939 Mobo
    -DualChannel
    -PCI-X

    Any other chipsets for this?
    Reply
  • amalinov - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    "Certainly, we will see 4 DIMMs, or two matched pairs, on the dual-channel nForce3-250Gb Ultra version of this chipset."

    again totaly unconnected with reality.
    in A64/Opteron the chipset has nothing to do with memory support. How much DIMMs are supported depends on CPU, mainboard and BIOS ONLY!
    There will be NO DUAL CHANNEL nf3-250Gb-Ultra. Just like nf3-250Gb IS NOT SINGLE CHANNEL.
    There will be DUAL CHANNEL S939 Athlon64 CPU.

    Also, another topic not well understood at Anandtech, Tom's, etc.: A64/Opteron FSB speed, HyperTransport speed, etc. - they (the writers) are mixing up clock frequency in MHz, data frequency in DDR and MHz, bandwith in GB/s. They think FSB and HyperTransport is the same thing. They think that HyperTransport is 800MHz (or maybe 200MHz "quadrupelt") - maybe becouse of similarity with P4. They think that their nf3-250Gb has a "250MHz FSB". They don't explain to the users on what depends the memory clock in a A64 system. They think that "Dual CPU support" is a feature of the chipset.
    Shame on you!
    Reply
  • Diogenes2 - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    I remain puzzled about the continuing declaration by Anandtech about the lack of AGP locks on NF3-150 boards..

    I have no way to confirm it ( with O-Scope, etc. )at this time, but I am running 265 FSB on my Gigabyte GA-K8NPRO, and having no problems with my Saphire 9800 Pro.. This was not the case with the KT800 board I experimented with for a while, which would not tolerate an FSB above 225, as far as AGP was concerned..


    I recommend that when the NF3-250 boards hit the shelves, buyers take advantage of price drops on NF3-150 offerings.. I don't see the modest performance gains of the NF3-250 as anything to get excited about..
    Reply
  • amalinov - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    just 2 lines below, another error:
    "nVidia includes the hooks for AC '97 6.1 audio in nForce3-250"
    6.1? Don't you mean 5+1 ("6-channel 5.1")????
    OK. This can be a typo-mistake, but when you add all typos, totaly wrong infos, etc. - it is too much to bear!
    Reply
  • amalinov - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    "Even with the memory controller on the chip, there is only so much real estate practically available on a single-chip chipset. "
    What???? This is not true! Where did you get such information?

    SiS745, anyone? Single Chip: AGP+DDR memroy+PCI+UATA+AC97+...
    also, current 0.13um, 0.15um is more advanced than SiS745.
    Other single chip: ALi M1689, SiS630, SiS540
    There IS enough real estate for a SoundStorm APU.
    The problem can be pin-count, but is not.
    Give us the area in mm2 and production technology in um of nforce3, nforce2 IGP, nforce2 MCP-T.... then can we speak.
    Also give for comparation other chipsets - north&south&singlechip, other CPUs, other GPUs... give numbers for total transistors, total pins...

    Generaly I think that the quality of articles in Anandtech and Tom's Hardware has declined VERY MUCH and is below acceptable now. Once these two were my favorite sites. Now I visit them only becouse they are big and so get the newest stuff and make MANY benchmarks. But if you need information about internals of a component and not its speed - they will most likely give you WRONG information. There are many other mistakes in mainboard and chipsets and other articles that start to annoy me...
    Reply
  • tagej - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    I do not find it surprising at all that most customers don't care about the sound storm stuff. After all, the vast majority of PC users (outside of the geek market of course) have their PC hooked up to $9.99 basic speakers -- sound storm is not going to make a difference at all, and is simply not a selling point.

    The 250Gb certainly looks sweet at this point... I'll be watching closely to see how the first retail boards do.
    Reply
  • aak97 - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    Just wanna know, did the nForce3-250Gb ref board comes with any WinXP 64bits drivers? I'm sure a lot of people (including myself) will be interested in some benchmarks on the Preview version of WinXP 64bits. Reply
  • Foxbat121 - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    #4,

    The "customer" in the survey probably refers to nVidia's largest OEM like HP, eMachine etc. These companies only care about save a few $$ and probably only chose nForce2 without SoundStorm.

    #7,

    The whole point of SoundStorm is to use Dolby Digital encoding and output everything throught digital sound output where analog codec chip does not get in to the play. If you use analog ouput, you will be better of with a sound card.
    Reply
  • KHysiek - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    Now with Intel adding Azalia high lever audio to it's boards NVidia looks clearly dumb with it's chipset w/o Soundstorm. Reply
  • clemedia - Monday, March 29, 2004 - link

    "On the other hand, Soundstorm offers high quality 3d audio rendering, but it is _ALWAYS_ paired with that SAME crappy Realtek ALC650 chip, which offers lousy analog output quality"

    Apparently you COMPLETLY overlooked the fact that most (all, AFAIK) SoundStorm boards offered digital output which bypassed those codec's completly. Which just happens to be EXACTLY what I use, and was a major selling point, allowing me to send out my DD/DTS signal to my amp for DVD's as I use for regular computer use. VERY handy.

    I would have no problem switching to something else if they offed a good DICE solution. (I think C-media makes a software DICE chip, but I would rather go with something better)
    Reply

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