Four years ago, NVIDIA previewed their first ever desktop chipset - the nForce 420 - at Computex.  The anticipation of NVIDIA's entry into the Athlon chipset market at the time was astounding. While they didn't get it right the first time around, by the end of nForce2's reign, VIA had relinquished the throne as the most desirable supplier of AMD chipsets.  Late last year, when NVIDIA announced that they had finally signed a cross licensing agreement with Intel, we knew it meant that NVIDIA's chipsets would soon be coming to the Intel platform, but honestly, we didn't really care.  We hadn't recommended an Intel CPU since the introduction of Prescott and this time around, NVIDIA's biggest competition wasn't VIA, it was Intel - and it's rare that you beat Intel in making chipsets for their own processors.

Honestly, Intel processors and even the platform haven't been interesting since the introduction of Prescott.  They have been too hot and poor performers, not to mention that the latest Intel platforms forced a transition to technologies that basically offered no performance benefits (DDR2, PCI Express).  A bit of that changed when Intel brought forth their dual core plans - assuming that they can actually guarantee availability, Intel is planning to ship more desktop dual core processors, at lower prices, than AMD this year.  As we mentioned in our preview of Intel's dual core Pentium D, the cheapest dual core processors will weigh in at $241 for the 2.8GHz models.  While for the same price you can get a much faster single core AMD CPU, the word "faster" applies selectively depending on what sort of usage models that you're looking at - whether it's heavy multitasking, or mostly running single applications.  We've already had that discussion, and the decision is still in your hands, but needless to say, Intel's processors have all of the sudden become much more interesting given the proposed price point for their entry-level dual core CPUs.  Now all of the sudden, there's some purpose to actually looking at the latest chipsets for the Intel platform. 

We have yet to recommend any of Intel's single core Prescott CPUs, and if you are looking for a single core Pentium 4, then you should already have a good idea of what chipsets there are out there.  But for dual core, the platform support is much more limited.  None of Intel's previous chipsets will support dual core, only their most recently announced 955X and 945 chipsets offer dual core support.  On the NVIDIA side, their nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset does support dual core, but NVIDIA stipulates that the motherboard manufacturers must implement that support properly on the design side.  As long as the motherboard manufacturer states that their nForce4 board supports Intel's dual core, you should be sitting pretty.  Chipsets from all manufacturers, including ATI, SiS and VIA will undoubtedly offer dual core support, but the fact of the matter is that their release is further down the line. What we're looking at today are the two heavyweights that are supposed to be available in the channel by the end of this month.

The Delicate Competition

The NVIDIA/Intel relationship is a very interesting one; as with any of these types of relationships, it is not one borne out of love, but rather necessity. At the end of the day, Intel would still be happier if there was no threat from companies like NVIDIA.  Because of this fine line between a partnership and a competitor, NVIDIA has to play their role very carefully - they don't want to be viewed as more of a competitor than a partner in the eyes of Intel.  By selling a chipset that is significantly more expensive than Intel's most expensive 955X, NVIDIA secures their position as a valuable partner, and not a competitor. 

You've already heard that NVIDIA's nForce4 SLI Intel Edition chipset costs about $80, but what about Intel's 955X and 945?  For once, Intel is actually the cheaper alternative - their 955X costs motherboard manufacturers $50 ($53 with ICH7R), while the 945P costs a mere $38.  For motherboard prices, this means that you can expect at least a $30 price premium for a nForce4 SLI Intel Edition board compared to a 955X board; compared to a 945P, you can expect closer to a $40 price premium.  It's not tremendous, but given that motherboards tend to hover in the low $100s, even a $30 difference is significant. 

At this point, NVIDIA hasn't announced any plans to bring a non-SLI version of the nForce4 to the Intel platform, and the vast majority of motherboard manufacturers are waiting for just that.  A lower cost nForce4 chipset would obviously translate into more sales for the motherboard manufacturers. However, it could very well be that NVIDIA doesn't want to try and take on Intel in the same price bracket.  At the same time, NVIDIA is a very successful company, so it remains to be seen how far over the line they will tread in the name of expanding their sales.

Intel’s 955X Chipset


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  • stevty2889 - Saturday, April 16, 2005 - link

  • PeteRoy - Saturday, April 16, 2005 - link

    Stevty, if you really work for Intel you would know that Intel has a specification for what case to use with 3ghz/90nm processors.

    Here's a link:
  • stevty2889 - Saturday, April 16, 2005 - link

    I think Questar is cramitpals nemisis..
    Quester I work for Intel, even Intel knows that the prescott has heat issues, and that for most applications right now, AMD is winning in price/performance...having to use water cooling to get a chip to run at stock speed without throttling is a pretty major heat issue if you ask me..even a thermalright XP-120 couldn't keep my 3.4 prescott from throttling at stock speeds, my 3.2 ES, and 2.8 didn't have as much of an issue, but some of the prescotts are running WAY too hot..
  • stephenbrooks - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    ^^ I was just searching all the previous 81 comments for the word "Soviet" in disbelief. Guess we've spoiled it now though. Reply
  • Houdani - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Anyone else miss the days of only bickering about:
    "The message is clear..."
    "In Soviet Russia..."
    Ah, memories. Feels like only yesterday.
  • fitten - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Well... it would be pretty stupid of a company to not roll with the punches. I'd rather see them shape their direction as they have that be rigid (which means they wouldn't compete anymore).

    The reason no one jumped at 64bits in x86 land is because the volume of 64bit processors out there wasn't worth the effort. So... 100,000 64bit systems are out there... compare that with over 1000X that number of 32bit only systems. Which would you target if you were developing software? Now that 64bit will be mainstream, the market will move that way.

    In addition, mom/pop won't see any real benefit from 64bit. There will be marginal speed benefits to having more general purpose registers, but that would have been the case in 32bit land. I doubt they are doing things that require more than 4G of memory, either. The only other real speed benefits are when you are manipulating 64bit integers and there just aren't that many apps that mom/pop use that need that kind of range.

    I like AMD as well (all 5 of my personal desktops have them) but I'm not a blind follower. It's nice to be excited about technology but don't let it become a religion. If Intel released a better processor than AMD, I wouldn't hesitate to buy those instead.
  • Questar - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Jeez, how many times do I have to repeat myself?

    We don't qualify processors, we qualify systems!

    Let me provide you with some links:

    Do you see any AMD based business computer lines from these vendors?

    I'll stop you from having to post a link to Gateway, or somebody even smaller. They don't provide the services we contract for when we buy systems. Again, it's about the entire system, and everything that is wrapped around it.
  • mlittl3 - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link


    And I assume that means that in your companies infinite wisdom that AMD processors could never be qualified in such a way and even though AMD has tried to convince your company otherwise, you don't think it is the right time to stop kissing Intel's ass.

    You don't by any chance work for a little company called Dell do you?
  • Questar - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Funny, I never said anything about Intel or AMD product roadmaps.

    I said vendor product roadmaps.

    For example, I know exactly when my current desktop system is going end of life, and I know what product will replace it. We will have POC units in our labs for our desktop engineering people to work with about 90 days before GA. They will buld the OS image for the systems, do extensive application testing, standardize the bios version and config (our PC vendor ships our systems preconfigured to our specifications). Everything that's different about the system from a technician standpoint will be documented. (Such as if you replace a system board, this is how to program the bios with the systems' asset tag). Our management systems will be updated with any changes that are needed to support the new systems.

    In the interim, I'll stock up with about a thousand units of the old system to bridge over the transition (four week supply). This is SOP for any large corporation. Every Fortune 500 that has centralized IT functions do it this way.

    This allows me to plan the resources that are needed to transition to the new system.
  • smn198 - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Questar is a troll. See

    Tries to stir up trouble all the time. Best to just ignore such people.

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