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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  • Aquila76 - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    Am I right in saying there is really no difference between the nForce4 and nForce3 boards except the SLI and PCIe and some subtle refinements? Performance wise they seem basically even.
    And to everyone b!tching about no Soundstorm, it disappeared with the nForce2 and even then most board makers used the Realtek chip instead of the nVidia MCP-T, so most of you haven't been using it for years now. Stop your complaining. Buy an actual card. Get on with enjoying gaming!
  • knitecrow - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    This is what different nforce4 reviews had to say about soundstorm. Read, make your own conclusions and ask questions.

    PC Perspective

    There has been a lot of rumors on the popular sites recently about SoundStorm and the future of NVIDIA's sound technologies. I can tell you for sure, coming from the head of the nForce marketing team, that SoundStorm team has been killed at NVIDIA -- no more development is going to happen in the near future. NVIDIA said that simply not enough motherboard manufacturers were putting it on their boards and utilizing the technology that was so expensive to continue to develop. Sorry guys!

    The Tech Report:

    "NVIDIA is not resurrecting its SoundStorm audio solution in nForce4, and surprisingly enough, the nForce4 won't even support Intel's High Definition Audio standard, a.k.a. Azalia. Instead, the nForce4 will stick with AC'97 audio sans hardware acceleration."


    **Soundstorm, I Hardly Knew Ye, I Bid You Adieu**
    One of the big features of the original nForce and the Xbox was Soundstorm. What made Soundstorm special was real time Dolby Digital encoding courtesy of the DSP on the MCP-T unit. With a backlash against Creative, Soundstorm was one of the few viable non-Creative solutions available to gamers. Unfortunately Soundstorm is officially dead for the foreseeable future. NVIDIA claimed that there was not enough interest either from the media (don't blame me I voted for Kang) or from the OEMs - there were not enough OEMs who wanted to pick up the more expensive MCP-T. All in all it was a business solution and it did not make sense for NVIDIA financially so it was axed. There is no conspiracy - it was not a licensing issue (Creative bought out Sensuara who provided a 3D Audio Algorithms to most third party sound manufacturers including NVIDIA). The nForce 4 will support 7.1 channel audio, there just will not be any DSP as with Soundstorm.
  • LotoBak - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    45 - Agreed... AGP owners left in the cold? or is there plans for a bridge.... (perhaps by the mb manufacterers)
    /me eyes up the nf3-250
  • mickyb - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    Enough about Soundstorm....we all want it, but it's not coming. What I want to know is why there are no benchmarks or detail review on nTune? The marketing graph shows performance improvement and it has adjustments on PCIe. I want to know if you can tune the NF4 to increase the performance of Far Cry. Also, with the performance increase of SLI vs. the price of a single card, I think I would go for purchasing a faster single card. It looks like 2 6600GTs will not perform up to par with a single 6800GT.

    Go Astros!
  • glennpratt - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    I would like to add that I too want soundstorm back. Noone has DICE, and noone has drivers that just work without all the crap. I cant stand having crappy built in sound then having to go buy a card and disable the onboard. what a waste. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    Comments about nForce4 Reference board audio, a link to past review info about nVidia Athlon 64 audio, and a link to the Realtek ALC850 codec information has been added to page 7. Reply
  • Akira1224 - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    I can't get excited about this.... I just bought a 6800GT AGP card and from what I have seen none of the solutions support AGP. Unless I hear something else... I'll pass. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    If that SLI reference board is representative of production boards, then theres a heavy price to pay for SLI. Adding the second PCIe 16x slot takes up the space of two normal (PCI or PCIe 1x) slots.

    On that reference board you have just three ordinary PCI slots and NO PCIe 1x slots whatsoever. That means you won't be able to use any standard PCIe cards with it. You are also left with only two ordinary PCI slots after putting a second gfx-card in (as the gfx-card will prevent the use of the adjacent PCI slot). Another PCI slot will be used up if you want good audio, leaving just one free. Thats a slight problem as I'd want to add at least a TV-tuner card and also a dial-up modem for my emergency internet connection, and there aren't enough sockets!

    Personally I think the nForce4 Pro is the best choice. If I had a 6600GT and wanted more performance, I'd sell it on eBay and put the money towards a new faster card.

    Someone asked if using two SLI cards effectively gives double the texture memory (two 128MB cards become a 256MB equivalent), or if all the textures must be loaded into both cards (so its still 128MB total). The answer is all textures needed must be loaded into both cards as there isn't enough bandwidth to swap textures between them on the fly. Thats another reason to sell your card and get a new faster one, than buying a second slow one.

    The lack of SoundStorm is irrelevant. It hasn't stopped people buying nForce 3 in droves and it certainly won't stop many from buying nForce 4 boards. If you want better sound, buy a proper soundcard (proper != Creative). Of course ensure you don't run out of PCI/PCIe sockets if you have an SLI board...
  • Myrandex - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    I have an Audigy 2 sound card and actually like it a lot. If I had soundstorm, I probably wouldn't use it unless it was somewhat revolutionary. My dad has an A7N8x-DX and loves it though.
  • icarus4586 - Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - link

    The setup I saw originally for SLI was an Intel Tumwater (workstation) setup with an x16 slot and an x8 slot, both with x16 connectors. I'm sure this or 2x8 would work better than the x16 x4 setup.
    And I'm pretty sure that you need to have to of the same cards for SLI. (ie 2x 6600GT, OR 6800, or whatever). I think they can be made by different board partners (like, say, eVGA for one and ASUS for the other would work.)
    Soundstorm? There's something on Inquirer about it:

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