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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  • ImJacksAmygdala - Saturday, October 23, 2004 - link


    That is an interesting idea and I can see the appeal for both the SFF and HTPC enthusiast markets.

    I wonder if ATI's dual graphics incarnation could use this with their new DX9.0 integrated graphics chip. That would be cool indeed.

  • Ivo - Saturday, October 23, 2004 - link

    Recently I posted my opinion that SLI is not important for a small form-factor HTPC. Meanwhile I changed my mind (hope, this still is not a crime :-))

    In the past the Integrated Graphic Processor was a synonym for 'moderate 2D and sparse 3D performance'. Now, an IGP could be combined in a SLI scheme with an AGP or PCIe Graphic Card. Than, for 2D and simple 3D applications (Office etc.) the IGP (with DVI-out!) will work, and the GC will be idle (Cool-and-Quiet!). For intensive 3D applications the GC will wake up, adding performance.

    I suppose, such an user- and environment-friendly scheme could sell more chipsets AND GCs than the two GCs SLI-solution from NF4.
  • Addlepate - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Found an answer to my question here:

    Looks like second week of November, SLI not until Late Nov / early Dec.
  • quanta - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Accoring to 3DSS's detailed Sound Blaster Audigy review[1], encoding sounds to Dolby Digital 5.1 format may actually be bad idea, since the streams have to be compressed, then decompressed at the speakers end, and adds latency.

    If you want better 5.1, forget the Dolby encoder. Just plug the speakers to S/PDIF ports, and let the analog conversion be done there.

  • Addlepate - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    Anyone able to predict when the first of these boards will be available retail, from Newegg or similar sites? Reply
  • quanta - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    #92, from the documents I've read about DDICE, it doesn't seem to be a bandwidth issue at all. What 'hardware Dolby 5.1 encoding' does is just converting data stream targeted to different speaker into another format. As for the 'interactive' part, it's just marketing speak for 'user applications taking advantage of hardware mixers, and choose what and how to mix based of application driven events.' This is well within the capability of major DSP-based soundcards, though your DSP performance may vary.

    As for 'hardware' mixing, it means little for DSP-based APU. For example, if an APU runs a microcode program that reads a MIDI, mixing all tracks into 5.1 streams, then does AC-3 encoding before sending out to speakers, is it still 'hardware' mixing? I prefer to call it 'non-CPU programmable controller mixing', but marketers didn't seem to agree. Anyway, I suspect what 'hardware accelerated DDICE' is just a combination of channel/effect mixing, then feed the streams to the converters, by using an APU. The extra bandwidth needed to load the conversion program will not be sufficient to stress the PCI bus, if done properly. Therefore the lack of 'hardware' DDICE support is a latency problem rather than bandwidth problem.
  • rjm55 - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    92 and 93 -
    Anyone reading the comments can't help but notice that you believe it is tragic SoundStorm is not a part of nForce4. That's your opinion, which is your right, but lots of others don't agree with you. nVidia has not had SoundStorm in any of their A64 chipsets for the last year and a half, so why are you just waking up to that fact?

    What I don't understand is that you seem angry the reviewer and AnandTech aren't as upset as you obviously are. I thought it was a balanced and fair review and good reading. But then again I never thought a review had to agree with me on every point to be worth reading.

    Your anger should be directed at nVidia and not at the reviewer or AnandTech IMHO.
  • Filibuster - Friday, October 22, 2004 - link

    #93, the first thread you referenced has information on a Cmedia chip which can do Dolby Digital encoding.

    It appears there will be cards with it soon...pci cards.

    The bandwidth thing is blown way out of proportion...its a PR thing that nobody caught.
    Do the simple math: 48000 samples per second * 24 bits per sample * 6 channels = ~7Mbit/second....not even a full megabyte per/sec for uncompressed 48khz/24bit/6 channel audio. AC3 is smaller yet, since it is compressed. Its more of a cpu power thing, since SS does the encoding instead of the cpu.

    My old 1.3Ghz PVR machine uses way more PCI bandwidth than that and its perfect. 2 tv tuners recording at 7Mbit/s each and it runs smooth as glass.
  • ImJacksAmygdala - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    If you want to see exactly why the lack of SS2 on the nforce4 is such a big deal take a look at these threads. It goes into the details of why SS was so different from any other available solution and why we may never see it again from Nvidia even in a stand alone sound card.

    I hope those links work... If not check out the AVS forums and do a search on the subject.

    You can also see some great replies from people on this subject at The Tech Report here..

    If you read all of the user replies you will finally understand why enthusiasts wanted SoundStorm2 so badly and why NO other solution exists currently on the market.

    So what are our options now and in the near future? Will a SS type solution become available as a PCIexpress card?

    Those seem to be the two biggest questions currently. I don't care who makes it as long as it is possible on a AMD64/dual DRR/dual PCIexpress graphics platform. Otherwise I will continue to save my pennies.
  • ImJacksAmygdala - Thursday, October 21, 2004 - link

    "there are other good players on the market too :-)"

    Really? Please tell us one audio solution on the market that is capable of DDICE with SPDIF Optical outputs? Sorry, but you can't.=D

    The ONLY one is Nvidia's Sound Storm...

    The reason is that the PCI bus does not have enough bandwidth to do so. For that reason no PCI solution is capable of what Sound Storm can do with such a small foot print.

    DDICE (Dolby ® Digital real-time Interactive Content Encoder) is critical for several enthusiast markets. The same markets that can afforde Nvidia's top of the line graphics cards or even the more extreme dual SLI PCIexpress graphics solutions. The HTPC theater crowd, SFF HTPC crowd, and the Wide Screen PC Gaming super 1337 crowd both use home theater audio equipment that has better DACs and S/N than any computer sound card could achieve. On that high end equipment any noise from the source is just that much more horrible.

    Sound Storm is the only solution available that has digital SPDIF optical outputs for low noise that can hook up to HT audio amplifiers and the DDICE is the only solution for real-time hardware DD encoding applied to surround streams that allows you to do 5.1 gaming and movies using high quality home theater THX certified speakers with little overhead on the CPU. (DTS would even be better)

    It is possible that a PCIexpress card could be made that could use the bandwidth required for DDICE, but currently no solution exists except for Nvidias Sound Storm on a dated motherboard using a dated CPU socket.

    This effectively leaves many enthusiasts that are willing to shell out the extra cash required for the dolby license totally alienated in the market.

    Many in this crowd want the Cool n Quiet AMD64 CPU, but skipped the Nforce3 because of the lack of SoundStorm. Instead opting to wait for Nforce4 hoping Nvidia would see the light. Nope they didn't so I guess we are SOL and now we can only hope other chipset makers will add HD audio that is DDICE capable on the AMD64 platform, preferably one that offers dual 16X PCIexpress graphics cards.

    With the lack of SoundStorm2 the Nforce4 product line does not distinguish itself from the rest of the pack except for SLI, but even now there are other 16X dual PCIexpress graphics card chipsets on the way.

    Kinda sucks, I was really hoping I didn't have to wait any longer and I could build in November with the Nforce4 in time for HL2, I guess I'll just wait a little longer and see if a PCIexpress sound card comes out that can do what SoundStorm did.


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