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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  • mlittl3 - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Sorry one typo in that last post.

    I should have said, "...AMD's processors f**king rock."

  • mlittl3 - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Oh and one other thing. Because Intel has such an influence on the IT industry, their constant indecision has cost us many delays in technology.

    Only until Intel moved to 64 bits in the last 12 months has Microsoft surprisingly come out with WinXP 64. The industry won't move unless Intel moves. And when they move everyone has to jump.

    Programmers are now scrambling to optimize code for 64bits and multithreading because they can't get their 5 GHz singlethreaded 32bit Prescott anymore. AMD said it was going that way and that the rest of the IT industry needs to go to 64bits and dual cores. They said this almost two years ago when they released the K8 architecture.

    No one jumped. No one changed their code. We are slaves to Intel's whims because no one will make a decision unless Intel tells them too. Innovation will always suffer at the likes of monopolies like Intel. Thankfully, AMD's processors were so superior to Intel's that the chip giant had to budge or face market share decreases.

    If you think I'm a conspiracy theory crackpot, I let current events speak for themselves. Why does a 80%+ market share, $80 bill revenue per year, industry leader have to adopt any tactics from a small insignificant rival like AMD?

    I tell you the answer, AMD's processors rock.

    Thank you. That is all.
  • mlittl3 - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    #59, #63

    I am not done flaming questar after his last post about roadmaps (#54).

    That is the biggest Intel loving bunch of bullsh*t I have ever heard.

    To keep the record straight, Intel completely tore up its roadmaps last year when it cancelled plans for its 4GHz prescott. They completely changed their entire marketing and engineering strategy. Their entire roadmap is different now.

    I get so mad when people like him just see Intel's name and assumes stable roadmaps. I've been following tech for many years now, so here we go.

    Fact #1. Intel promoted Megahertz=performance for years.

    Fact #2. Intel recently said that megahertz isn't everything and other factors need to be considered.

    180 reversal.

    Fact #3. Intel said they would never use model numbers to identify processors and that AMD was misleading their customers.

    Fact #4. Intel now uses model numbers to identify their processors.

    180 reversal.

    Fact #5. Intel was going to use the netburst architecture up to 6 GHz+.

    Fact #6. Intel has cancelled any concrete plans to increase processor speed beyond 4 GHz in the immediate future.

    180 reversal.

    Fact #7. Intel was going to use the Pentium 4 for all laptops.

    Fact #8. As I currently write this, no current Dell laptop models (Intel's largest distributor) have a pentium 4 in them.

    180 reversal

    Fact #9. Intel said a year ago that 64bits is not ready for many years and will not implement the technology until it is ready.

    Fact #10. All currently released Intel processors except for 5xx and Pentium M use EM64T technology.

    180 reversal.

    Fact #11. There were no plans for dual core in Intel processors until AMD said that dual core was planned from the beginning of the K8 architecture.

    Fact #12. Intels "fastests" processors are becoming dual core.

    180 reversal.

    Questar, exactly what 3 year roadmaps from Intel have remained unchanged? We have no idea if Intel will change on us again and go a completely different route. How do you know that the current 3 year roadmap will stay unchanged? Do you have a crystal ball? No one can foresee that far into the future in the IT industry.

    3 years ago Intel showed roadmaps of the Pentium 4 to go to 6 GHz with no model numbers, no 64bits, no Pentium M, no dual core. I really need some clarification from you because I'm so confused.

    And all you other loyal IT readers out there, please let me know if I left any other 180 reversal of Intel out. There have been so many it's hard to keep track.
  • Calin - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Motley, I totally agree PCI Express is good for alot of things - SCSI, iSCSI, Gigabit Ethernet, and others. However, you won't see neither one of them on the mainboards with 915, 925x or similar chipsets. Those kind of things appear on server-level chipsets, and some of them had PCI-E for quite some time Reply
  • Calin - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    "It's pretty clear - Intel's last few products have been worthless in many cases."
    You damn americans - just because something is not the absolute number one, it means it is worthless?
    I would like to have a Northwood processor at 3.6 GHz and at the price of a Sempron 2200, but that doesnt' mean Prescott are worthless
  • Dennis Travis - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Anand, You were right to keep this test Intel since that is what the test was about anyway, Dual Core Intel on either NVIDIA or Intel boards. When the Dual Core AMD's come out, then it would be great to see a test with both platforms on the NVIDIA NF4 boards. Reply
  • mkruer - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Anand; I hope that when you get the Athlon64 X2, if you don’t have it already, you will end up doing the most comprehensive benchmarking on the planet! The full Server/Desktop/Multimedia/Games package. Testing Single Xeon, Single Opteron, Dual Xeon, Dual Opteron, Dual-Core P4 and Dual-Core Opteron. Also I would recommend against using benchmarking suites, instead use real world applications. In fact, that would be an interesting tests in it self. Does benchmarking suites really give accurate results compared to the real product? Reply
  • thelostjs - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    umm overclocking comparo? <-- humble broke teen Reply
  • chennhui - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    Pro & Con of Hyperthreading
  • KeithDust2000 - Friday, April 15, 2005 - link

    JoKeRr, "And if we look ahead, Intel is making dualcore 65nm's thermal evenlope same as Northwood at 89W (don't count on me though), I'm impressed b/c Intel is actively addressing the problems."

    They were responsible for the problems in the first place, and the only reason they are addressing them is that they now have some competition that would gain a lot of market share if they continued to ignore the interests of their customers going forward. If there´s something admirable about that, I must have missed it.

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