nForce3-250 - Part 2: Taking Athlon 64 to the Next Levelby Wesley Fink on March 29, 2004 11:00 AM EST
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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.
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