nForce3-250Gb: WORKING AGP/PCI Lock

It should not be a surprise that the first thing we confirmed is a working PCI/AGP lock. After discovering that none of the previous Athlon 64 chipsets had a working AGP lock, we went immediately to a test to verify that the AGP lock was indeed working. We used PC Geiger that was used for measuring PCI in PCI Speed and Overclocking: A Closer Look at A64 and P4 Chipsets. With FSB set at 249 and AGP frequency set to 67, we measured a PCI speed of 33.3MHz.



This is the expected results for a working AGP lock. We certainly can confirm that the AGP lock is working on the nForce3-250GB Reference Board, and we'll take another look when shipping nF3-250 boards start showing up in a couple of weeks.

FSB Overclocking Results

Reference Boards are not really designed for overclocking, and there are normally not any voltage adjustments available as we would see on production motherboards. However, with PCI/AGP lock available, we were anxious to see if the nForce3-250Gb did indeed overclock better. This was also an opportunity to verify a working PCI/AGP lock by a different method.

Front Side Bus Overclocking Testbed
Default Voltage
Processor: Athlon 64 3400+
2.2GHz
CPU Voltage: 1.5V (default)
Cooling: AMD Stock Athlon 64 Heatsink/Fan
Power Supply: Powmax 350W
Maximum OC: 2442MHz (+11%)@222x12
2375Mhz@250FSBx9.5 (+25% FSB)

The above overclocking setup at default voltage allowed us to reach a stable Frequency of 250 at 800 HyperTransport with AGP/PCI fixed at 33/66. The limit of this CPU at default voltage is apparently somewhere around 2450MHz, since we could not reach 250FSB with a 10 multiplier. That would have represented 2.5GHz, had we been successful.

Important here is the fact that we reached the absolute highest FSB setting of the Reference Board, which is 250. This is further evidence that the AGP lock is indeed working on nforce3-250.

We asked nVidia about the issues with the nForce3-150 AGP/PCI lock, which are apparently fixed in nF3-250. nVidia assured us that the AGP lock was indeed working in the 150 Reference Board, but that the BIOS implementations by manufacturers with the 150 chipset were not correct. Therefore, the shipping boards for nF3-150 did not have a consistently working AGP lock. nVidia also assured us that they were working more closely with manufacturers on the nF3-250 launch to make sure manufacturers were delivering nF3-250 boards with working AGP lock.

We tested nVidia's claim and found the Reference nF3-150 board did have a working AGP lock. The AGP lock is also definitely working on the 250 Reference Board, and we sincerely hope we will find the same working lock on shipping nF3-250 motherboards. We will be looking closely at production nF3-250 boards to verify a working AGP lock.

Reference Boards are rarely a good indication of the true overclocking abilities of a chipset because they are designed to qualify and demonstrate a chipset at design parameters. The features are definitely here for the best overclocking in current Athlon 64 chipsets. It is also worth mentioning that the Athlon 64 Multiplier Utility, available as shareware from CPU-Z, worked fine on the nForce3-250. While it was designed for the 150 chipset, nVidia saw no reason why it should not work properly and we did confirm that the multiplier adjust utility works.

nForce3-250Gb Reference Board: Basic Features nForce3-250Gb: On-Chip Gigabit LAN
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  • draven31 - Thursday, March 25, 2004 - link

    Yes, the lack of PCI Express is a disappointment

    But, so is the lack of PCI-X. It means that system integrators and postproduction facilities will be hesitant about using NF3-250 motherboards for workstations because a significant portion of the current NLE cards want at least a 64-bit PCI slot, if not a PCI-X 66, 100, or 133.

    This lack of PCI-X slots on Athlon64 motherboards (you have to get a dual opteron board to get them) means i may have to go Intel for my next systems, and i was really hoping to get an Athlon64 because Lightwave runs best on them overall.
    Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #49 -
    I heartily DISAGREE with your conclusions. As you will see soon enough DDR2 is at present the same performance as DDR (at best) at twice the price or more. While I do appreciate the potential of DDR2, the current execution is like Prescott - much ado about very little.

    As for your bandwidth, we are talking about an Athlon 64 and NOT an Intel CPU. Intel design and deep pipes keep it constantly starved for bandwidth; A64 on the other hand has been shown to perform just about as well with current single-channel DDR as it does with much greater bandwidth dual-channel DDR. This actual performance certainly refutes your claim for the A64 "needing DDR2". Even dual-channel is more a checklist item most consumers demand than it is a huge performance booster on A64. But dual-cahnnel will indeed be a part of socket 939 - doubling memory bandwidth for an Athlon 64 that already competes quite well with single-channel memory.

    I do agree with your point about hard-drive throughput, and there is little to complain about in the nF3-250Gb design in that regard.

    Talk to memory manufacturers about DDR2. Most are extremely frustrated at having to add huge buffering to even get the 533 stuff to work. In addition latencies are so high at 4-4-4-8 that any performance gain is pretty much nullified. And the cost is prohibitive (sound like early Rambus?). Things WILL improve with time on DDR2, but your sweeping pronouncements are just misinformed.

    Reply
  • jcoltrin - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    PCI Express and Hyperthreading won't make a bit of difference in today's games. The only benefit I can think of with nForce3 is *maybe* better sound, and gigabit LAN. PCI Express has been shown to only produce minimal effects on fps, and who cares about hyperthreading unless you enjoy burning CD's and compressing your latest movie while playing a FPS. What this chipset really needed, and the ref . board doesn't support is DDR2. Memory bandwidth and SATA hard drives are the only thing that's going to unleash the power of our already over-kill video cards and load the expansive levels in an acceptable time. Why this article failed to acknowledge this I don't understand. Reply
  • Reflex - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #46: For purely gaming purposes the Soundstorm does an adequate job. No complaints there. But many people use their PC for more than gaming, and anyone who cares about the actual quality of the sound coming out, especially for music playback would care about the differences. Yes the S/N ratio is very poor on SoundStorm setups. Anyone who cares about excellent reproduction would not be using SPDIF cables as well, they would demand a coax solution for digital output(Turtle Beach SC for instance offers this).

    Like I said, it was a leap over what was included on motherboards when it was first released, but it has stagnated since then and the competition is far ahead now. Even Creative Labs, which is not even remotely close to being a leader in sound quality, is far beyond the SoundStorm nowadays. Now give me a SS solution with 24/96 capabilities and 106 S/N ratio and they would be back in the hunt. But that won't happen, nVidia is not a audio company.
    Reply
  • Pumpkinierre - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    The dually is good if you're running a game and other apps even if they are single threaded. I don't of course but many do, to switch quickly to avoid the boss or for 10 minutes relaxation while working. There is some loss of performance as a result of the cpus watching each other but with the present design and power of the opteron it wouldnt be noticeable. I'd like a dually.

    Reply
  • BikeDude - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #41: Soundstorm=poor quality in what way? S/N? I'm using the SPDIF connector and get 5.1 surround in most of today's games and DVD movies. What other audio solution features Dolby encoding in hardware? I have not seen (heard) one yet.

    SoundStorm is the only audio solution that offers Audigy2 much competition when it comes to CPU usage in games.

    When something better appears, I'll switch in a second, but for now I dread my next motherboard upgrade as it'll mean I'll have to go back to standard audiocables again (and no less than three at that, in addition to the SPDIF cable!). :-(

    As for USB2: It sucks. Compare external drive solutions, the old firewire400 interface wins every time. If nVidia has really cut firewire support, lets atleast hope they get USB 2.0 support right this time. I had to install an extra USB 2.0 controller to get my Thrustmaster FF wheel working for more than five minutes at a time (I tried with both Epox 8RDA3+ and ABit AN7 motherboards).
    Reply
  • GoatHerderEd - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    #44:
    My bro is a BeOS fan too! How fun is that?
    Reply
  • iwantedT - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    personally i wouldnt mind a dual cpu a64 solution. In my experience, it means a hell of a lot more time between upgrades. Hell, i've even still got a dual celeron 500 bp6 setup that is quite usable still, even tho its running BeOS, ie. support is kinda dead :) Reply
  • ripdude - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Good article I must say, though the lack of PCI-Express is a small disappointment.

    Also, the conclusion states that socket 939 is a couple of months away, is there a bit more certain release date? Perhaps somewhere in april/may?
    Reply
  • Reflex - Wednesday, March 24, 2004 - link

    Trogdor: Yes multi-threading is more complicated, however its a shift that everyone *is* making. There is really very little excuse to make single threaded applications on today's hardware and operating system environments, its an issue more of an established method of doing things giving way *very* slowly to new ways. For an industry that embraces most new technology, its strange that they did not change their design philosophies long ago, really once Win9x(and Pentium CPU's) became a standard the infrastructure was in place... Reply

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