nForce3-250 - Part 1: Taking Athlon 64 to the Next Levelby Wesley Fink on March 23, 2004 11:55 AM EST
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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.