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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  • KeithDust2000 - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    JoKeRr, "However, with such a great product, why couldn't AMD strike a deal with major OEMs like Dell? I know they're doing great on the server side with opteron, but why not desktop?"

    You must be "joking". Dell may be the the biggest PC OEM in the world, but not by much, and No.2 HP, No.3
    Lenovo/IBM, No.4 Acer and No.5 Fujitsu-Siemens all carry AMD desktop CPUs, from Sempron to Athlon 64.
  • chennhui - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    Why not impliment something like Hyperthreading when it's proven to work so well?

    " Fred's response to this question was thankfully straightforward; he isn't a fan of Intel's Hyper Threading in the sense that the entire pipeline is shared between multiple threads. In Fred's words, "it's a misuse of resources." "
  • KeithDust2000 - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    Hi Anand, wrt. your comment

    "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."

    I think it´s unlikely that the 1.8Ghz Athlon 64 X2 will cost more than $240. After all, a single core Athlon CPU @ 1.8Ghz can be had for ~$125. Not mentioning that it will likely show higher overall performance (note that Pentium D has no HT), will fit into existing platforms, have about half the power consumption, and probably better 64bit performance and power management. We´ll see, I guess...

  • JoKeRr - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    OK, I was going to flame Questar with an old Chinese saying:
    It's always the idiot who got the loudest mouth and who thinks he/she knows everything, and it's always the smarties who only speak the truth and state the facts when necessary.

    Anyway, I take that back b/c I think Questar has changed.
    On the flip side, this is how I view the whole processor debate:

    great marketing power and OEM support, great fabs and lots of engineering power. P4 prescott is hotter than it should be, but Intel has made a lot of progress from C0 stepping to the newest N0 stepping. Plus you've got to give Intel some credit for being the first that brings Dualcore to desktop (I know AMD's the first in server) and willing to widely spread the eventual benefit of dualcore to everyone today at a very fair price even though the cost of manufacturing is definitely higher. Sure it's essentially 2 prescott 1mb core glued together but it works. It takes guts for a company to widespread something so bleeding edge and so much at the same time (DDR2, PCI-E, HD audio, etc). 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. And who's not impressed with the introduction of Centrino?

    On the other hand, there are things I don't like about Intel either: Such as the frequent change of socket (was 775 really neccessary before dualcore?? what about 423?), not supplying nearly as much 875P chipset as it should b/c 925XE/925/915 is not selling well, and now a whole new platform just to add dualcore support, just to name a few. As for performance: Other than gaming, Intel's P4 is only behind in 3 or 4 benchmarks when I last counted.

    AMD: They do have a wondering processor with Athlon64 right now, cool and fast, especially in gaming. They are also making good progress with dualcore, and mobile platform (turion64) and they have great chipset from NVDIA and VIA. And props to AMD who's the first to introduce 64bit support, well done. However, with such a great product, why couldn't AMD strike a deal with major OEMs like Dell? I know they're doing great on the server side with opteron, but why not desktop? Lack of marketing in my own opinion hurts a lot for companies like AMD. And I wish AMD could have addressed the issue of multitasking better before the coming of dualcore: Why not impliment something like Hyperthreading when it's proven to work so well?

    One last question for Anand b4 I shut up:
    DDR could run at 2-2-2-5 but fetches 2bit per cycle. DDR2 runs at 4-4-4-10, even though twice the latency but fetches 4bit per cycle, so essentially DDR2 at 4-4-4-10 is about the same (in terms of bandwidth and maybe even latency??) as DDR at 2-2-2-5?

  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link


    I'll see if I can get Derek to do an article on audio quality of the latest solutions, but a lot of that will vary from one motherboard to the text. If an article does end up shaping out, I'll post something about it.

    The 2 single core CPUs vs. 1 dual core CPU comparison is an interesting one that I'd like to make and I'll do my best to fit some of those numbers in there, but I think there are other, more useful (from a purchasing standpoint) comparisons out there that you will see in the article.

    As far as my reasons for not doing an AMD NF4 vs. Intel NF4 comparison, it has nothing to do with pleasing any manufacturer - as I've said many times before, I don't care about pleasing any manufacturers, I'm here to deliver what you all want. It doesn't matter that Intel supplied the CPU, they just send us the hardware and we do whatever we want with it. I was originally going to do an AMD vs. Intel comparison in that article, but a handful of readers responded that it wasn't necessary so I left it out - I agreed with them as I thought it would be redundant and after all, if you're looking at a comparison of Intel chipsets you've already decided that you want an Intel processor (if not, consult our CPU reviews first to figure out what CPU to buy, then read the chipset reviews to figure out what chipset, then what motherboard, etc...).

    Take care,
  • mino - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    Just one correction that's worth it:
    " Albeit not beeing unjustified. At least insom cases like HD audio. "
    should sound more like this
    " Albeit not beeing justified. At least in some cases like HD audio. "

    You know, in my native language there could be even 3 to 4 negations in one simple sentence:
    Nikdy som nepovedal ze nie si blbec. goes word for word:
    I never didn't said that you aren't silly.

    Funny those "dirty" translations are. In manuals topic it's sometimes an issue if instead of EN you've got just your native one.;(

    Soo, thats all for some uninteresting dully comments. At least have got a feeling I wasn't alone...
  • mino - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    bleh; just got pissed of by my own spelling/hypnetation/thesaurus/etc .. ;) Reply
  • mino - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    Rand: Yeah ! so am I.
    Actually this is the first time I noticed they have changed it ;-) Funny is I started to watch IT closely just 2yrs bacwards...

    from the evolution of your posts through out this discusion I see you HAVE changed the opinion. It's quite refreshing to see some valid arguments in your last post. That's it you should have started with.

    In case you are who you claim to, this flame was surely worth the paper (literaly meant :).

    Please could you take a look at the audio quiality of the new SB from nVidia(;-) ? You know, nF4's AC'97 is nothing to sing about...
    From the other keg - hope to see 2x248(848) versus single 1x275(875) in the SAME board compared. this would be waaaays more usefull spent time than any other comparison possible. PLEASE take note here so those of us who have current image of situation in the performance arena doesn't have to make indirect guesses(wonder if that word spells such way ;D).

    To all who would like to se nF4 AMD vs. Intel SLI roundup: Please take in mind that such an embarassment would not please Intel(AND the provider of tested HW) very much. It would also make no other sense than to sink the P4 platform even more into mud. Albeit not beeing unjustified. At least insom cases like HD audio.
  • Rand - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link

    I still spell it as nVidia all the time, purely out of habit. Even after all these years I haven't quite gotten it stuck into my head that NVIDIA is now the appropriate spelling.
  • Rand - Thursday, April 14, 2005 - link


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