Index

In round 2 of the chipset wars, nVidia performed a massive transformation of the nForce3 chipset, moving from the pedestrian nForce3-150 to the leading-edge nForce3-250 family in April. As good as nForce3-250 is, however, users knew that more was on the way from VIA, SiS, and nVidia themselves. The CK8 chipset was first displayed at Computex in June. With the successful launch of the nForce3-250 family, it was clear that nVidia had every intention of upping the ante in the Athlon 64 market with both PCI Express and Dual Video cards on the single-chip CK8.



In the four months since we first saw CK8, a lot has happened in the computer industry. Intel launched their new Socket 775 processor and 925X/915 chipset and received a less than enthusiastic reception from enthusiasts. The yawns from the computer community have translated into very poor retail sales for the new Intel platform. Promised performance updates to the new Intel architecture, which were supposed to drive sales of the new 775 platform, have been scaled back, with rumors that mainstream 1066 parts now are not expected until the middle of 2005.

AMD has continued their performance push, with the introduction of the dual-channel 939 on June 1, and today, AMD extends their CPU line at the top with the FX55 and 4000+ processors. Meanwhile, Intel's top 3.6Ghz CPU is finally appearing in the retail channel more than 3 months after introduction. While Intel pioneered the move to 90nm, the transition to 90nm has been anything but smooth for Intel, with concerns about heat and the difficulty of moving the 90nm process to the top performance end of the Intel line. AMD has just introduced their first 90nm Athlon 64, which generally appears to avoid the problems that Intel encountered. However, we will not really know whether or not the shrink is a complete success for AMD until we see the top Athlon 64 processors in 90nm.

All of these developments have quickly changed the landscape of the computer market. In the retail market, AMD has moved from a small percentage of the total retail market to even with Intel in the last couple of months. Computer users who scoffed at the idea of buying an Athlon 64 computer a few months ago are now shopping for Athlon 64 computers. Also VIA, which had problems with the PCI/AGP lock in the initial launch of the K8T800 PRO, has fixed these issues with shipping chipsets. VIA also demonstrated a working K8T890 chipset a few weeks ago that features PCI Express and the promise of Dual Video cards in a future K8T890 Pro chipset. Thus far, there are no retail boards based on the K8T890 that have appeared in the market, but VIA promises that they will be here "soon".

All of these developments have changed the landscape for nVidia. In other words, the stakes for CK8 have changed since June. A winner with CK8 would change nVidia from an AMD chipset maker to one of the major players in the chipset market. nVidia seems keenly aware of what is involved and they have pulled out a whole slew of features to win you over if you're looking for an Athlon 64 motherboard.

The nForce4 Family
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  • Ivo - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    The posting #90 is virtually answering mine (#89). Although, I have some additional remarks:

    The A64 CPU is incorporating the most sensitive part of former chipsets - the memory controller. So, mainly their features now seal the A64 chipsets, not the performance. It is a question of priorities. On my opinion, the on-chipset audio and the proper Cool & Quiet operation are more important for an SFF-HTPC than a SLI and a hardware firewall. Obviously, the NF4 does not target SFF-HTPCs. Hopefully other NVIDIA's chipset (with Div9x IGP and! audio) will target it soon. If not - there are other good players on the market too :-)
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    The place for quality onboard audio is in a seperate chip on those motherboards that require it, not an expensive addition integrated into the main chipset that will be unused by many. That way the mobo manufacturer can include whatever level of sound support best fits the intended market.

    I personally think the nVidia hardware firewall is a more useful feature to have if (as the article suggests) it filters outbound as well as inbound packets without incurring CPU overhead (except when it needs to ask about an application it doesn't have a rule for). Its all very well having a router with a firewall but that won't stop applications from sending unwanted traffic. Outbound protection is just as important as inbound for a secure system.
    Reply
  • Ivo - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    Quality onboard audio is essential for SFF-HTPCs. A systematical underestimation of this developing market is, most likely, a fruitless way to go. Reply
  • bhtooefr - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    NO, NO, NO! You cannot run two different cards in SLI. They have to be the same exact model. So, you couldn't run (say) a Leadtek GF6600GT and a BFG GF6800GTOC, or even a two cards with the same chip, and the same amout of RAM, if they're different brands. Reply
  • Shinei - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    I have nothing but complaints about my onboard audio with my GA7N400Pro2. It was a 35% chance of booting up without the audio cracking, popping, or making any combination of odd noises; and on top of that, it had problems with rendering sounds properly in games (Halo in particular). So I dropped an Audigy 2 in my system (I have no idea why people whine about the SB drivers, I don't have any problems with them), and things work just fine now.
    Just remember, not everybody gets SoundStorm, and not everybody has the MCP-T southbridge; let alone one that works properly.
    Reply
  • knitecrow - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    #84. I cannot be bothered to point out all the inaccuracies. Please read up on audio related information.

    RE: doom and creative
    Please see #65
    Creative forced ID to license and support EAX or face a lawsuit. (because of the similarity in some audio method they used)


    RE: "VIA Envy 24HT sound on it which can do multi-channel and everything in software with better quality than Creative's offerings"

    While true, VIA ENVY does an excellent job on hi-definition audio; its software 3d positioning audio is crap.
    Reply
  • jm0ris0n - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    For the record you 'could' use 2 ati cards, but it isn't gonna work until they create SLI support.

    So you can only sli 'sliable' cards !
    Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    #83- SoundStorm is unimportant, we all knew nForce 4 wouldn't have it months ago when no nForce 3 chipsets had it. I can't believe the fuss some people are making over something irrelevant.

    That MSI nForce 4 SLI board looks like it probably has VIA Envy 24HT sound on it which can do multi-channel and everything in software with better quality than Creative's offerings. Doom 3 was originally programmed and still uses software 3D sound because it is better than any EAX hardware solution, and the CPU processing power to do it is negligible these days. Hardware 3D sound is on its way out but people with Creative soundcards will probably want to continue using it as their dodgy drivers will give worse support for multiple software channels than EAX "accelerated" ones. Adding Creative EAX support was something John Carmack did so the Doom 3 engine can be used in future games by people with slower CPUs that maybe cannot take the audio overhead.

    Dedicated processing-power will be needed for video for several years at least, but all that is needed for audio is good analog circuitry or digital connections. If audio processing was so demanding, why don't even the "high-end" Creative cards have even a passive heatsink on the core? Its because what they do is trivial and can be done by your CPU.
    Reply
  • ImJacksAmygdala - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    I was hyped about the Nforce4 and waited forever to upgrade, but because it does not have Sound Storm I will not be buying a Nforce4!

    "What was Nvidia thinking?" seems to be a common question posted all over the internet at the lack of Sound Storm.

    I was willing to pay extra and wait for SLI even though it is only 8x PCIexpress. Nvidia said they didn't want to add extra cost to the board because of a Dolby Digital license, but they think there is a market for SLI's extra cost? Ya probably because you have to buy another Nvidia graphics card....

    If I'm willing to pay extra for SLI I sure as hell am willing to pay for the added cost of Sound Storm!

    I wanted Sound Storm so I could hardware encode all sources to Dolby Digital for my HTPC wide screen gaming rig. I will now wait for VIA's dual PCIexpress solution because it is going to be dual 16X for graphics cards over Nvidia's 8x. I might even switch altogether and get 2 ATI PCIexpress graphics cards aswell for the VIA chipset dual PCIexpress graphics solution.

    If a Dolby Digital license is so expensive then maybe they should look at a DTS solution instead. That would be just as good if not better. And while Nvidia is at developing SoundStorm2 (after the backlash from a lack of SoundStorm on the Nforce4 you know they will) they need to fix the damn EAX problems everyone bitched about on the Nforce2 that got NO support!

    It is sad that I have NO other options to hardware encode Dolby Digital from any source on an Athlon64 system. I guess I'll have to settle with an Audigy2ZS, but I think I will even wait on that and see if Creative Labs develops a sound card for the PCIexpress bus that can handle hardware encoding of Dolby Digital and DTS from any source where the PCI bus was so limited....

    Like I said I will no longer be buying a Nvidia Nforce4 SLI board and 2 6800ultras now that there is no SoundStorm2. I will instead buy a Via chipset board and 2 ATI PCIexpress Graphics cards and use the onboard sound untill Creative Labs wakes up and makes a product that will do the same thing as SoundStorm using the increased bandwidth of the PCIexpress bus...

    Nvidia what were you thinking?!?!?!?

    [myth]
    Most people on all these tech forums keep saying if you're a l33t gamer with a big ass rig you'd have an Audigy 2 in some flavour for your sound anyways.[/myth]

    Not really, if your rig was really 1337 you would use the digital out and hook your 1337 rig to a real home theater audio amplifier that has better DACs and S/N than any computer sound card could ever have and you wouldn't have to worry about game support and compatibility for drivers either...

    And if I spend the cash on a dual PCIexpress graphics motherboard I might aswell NOT buy an PCI bus Audigy2 ZS incase Creative Labs makes a sound card that uses the bandwidth of the PCIexpress bus and makes a sound card that can do the same thing that the Nforce2 SoundStorm and encode Dolby Digital and DTS on the fly with little CPU hit...

    Nvidia what were you thinking?!?!?!?!

    I'm not a graphics card company specific fan at all, but just wait untill the benchmarks come out for HalfLife2 that use the newer drivers for dual PCIexpress solutions that favor ATI PCIexpress graphics cards and you will see that Nvidia may have already lost this round with the enthusiast market now that they have limited the Nforce4 to 8X SLI for Nvidia cards ONLY with no SoundStorm2...

    Other chipsets will have dual 16X PCIexpress graphics cards, HiDef audio, and not restrict dual graphics card brands... We shall see if this is indeed true in the very near future.
    Reply
  • SynthDude2001 - Wednesday, October 20, 2004 - link

    Add me to the growing list of people extremely disappointed that there's no SoundStorm on the Nforce4. That was the major reason I was waiting for it (coming from an NF2 right now), but now I'm not even sure it's worth it anymore.

    I'd need to dump my AGP 6800GT and find a PCI-E one (most likely losing money in the process), and I'd have to shell out the money for a separate sound card as well. Not looking so attractive at this point...
    Reply

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