NVIDIA puts on a very good Editor's Day, and this year's event to launch nForce5 was no exception. We had already seen, tested, and reported on late AM2 samples in AMD Socket-AM2 Performance Preview and First Look: AM2 DDR2 vs. 939 DDR Performance. This just meant we visited NVIDIA with pretty low expectations for the launch of AM2. We already knew performance was about the same as Socket 939. We knew the huge memory bandwidth increases for DDR2 on Socket AM2 were very real, but we also had already discovered that the extra memory bandwidth just didn't increase the performance of AM2 at this time.

What we did not know at that point was the ambitious plans NVIDIA had for their new nForce 500 chipset - in particular the flagship 590. We weren't expecting much, but NVIDIA's marketing and engineering personnel were prepared to change our minds with new, exciting features like LinkBoost, SLI Memory, completely reworked networking capabilities, chipset support for 6 SATA drives (including 2 simultaneous RAID 5 arrays), and new or updated software like nTune 5.0 that allowed tweaking and overclocking in Windows with the ability to save Windows changes to BIOS. It is Marketing and Public Relation's job to impress and shape the message. We were prepared to be uninspired and unimpressed, but NVIDIA won us over, as they often do. That, after all, is the reason companies have events like Editor's Day.

On the way back home we were thinking about NVIDIA's climb in the chipset market. It has been almost five years since NVIDIA launched the original nForce platform into an AMD market that was being dominated by the VIA KT266A chipset. It took a gutsy video card manufacturer to think they could topple the mighty VIA of that time. The original nForce chipset introduced several new technologies into the AMD market such as a dual-channel memory controller, built-in Ethernet controller, SoundStorm audio solution, DASP memory enhancements, and relatively fast (for the time) integrated graphics, GeForce2 MX for the IGP version. While the nForce met with some growing pain issues revolving around the IDE/Sound drivers, lack of a PCI/AGP lock, along with not matching the speed of the VIA KT266A at times, it was generally considered a successful venture for a new chipset maker.

In the fall of 2002 NVIDIA rolled out their update for the nForce, appropriately named the nForce2. The nForce2 was touted to fix all the little things wrong with nForce, and the release also included separate MPC (Southbridge) units with the MCP-T featuring the SoundStorm audio processor and dual 100Mbit Ethernet NICs and MCP-P featuring a single 100Mbit NIC along with AC'97 audio. The nForce2 also provided a PCI/AGP lock that greatly improved its overclocking capabilities along with an updated integrated graphics version featuring the GeForce4 MX. In 2003, NVIDIA released an updated version of the nForce2 called the nForce2 Ultra 400 that featured an increase in the front side bus from 166MHz to 200MHz along with official PC-3200 DDR support. The nForce2 family was a huge success and NVIDIA was finding itself moving quickly from new kid on the chipset block to market leader.

In the fall of 2003 NVIDIA introduced their new nForce3-150 chipset in order to meet the introduction of the new AMD Athlon 64 processor series. The chipset was obviously rushed as NVIDIA temporarily lost the feature war to the VIA K8T800 and was widely criticized for a 600MHz HyperTransport interface along with the removal of a now mature SoundStorm audio solution. In the spring of 2004 NIVIDIA responded with the nForce3-250 that featured a HyperTransport frequency of 800MHz, on-chip Gigabit Ethernet, SATA RAID support, 8 USB 2.0 ports, and a general refinement that was not found on other boards of the time.

In October of 2004 NVIDIA introduced the family of nForce4 products that fully supported the new PCI Express standard. This family has grown over the last 18 months to include SLI technology, SATA 3Gb/s support, additional USB ports, ActiveArmor network engine, and even an Intel version of the product family. The nForce4 family has been the dominant market leader for the AMD Athlon64 series for a long time and just recently has met with serious competition from another video card maker.

That's quite a history for 5 short years. NVIDIA has moved from the audacious video card maker who introduced a new platform chipset to the market leader in the AMD Athlon64 universe, and they have won that battle with innovative products and listening to their customers. Of course, today another video card maker is trying hard to win over the same enthusiasts. So how does NVIDIA respond to a lackluster new AM2 processor? The answer is with a huge marketing bang. NVIDIA has pulled out all the stops in an effort to win users over and grab some sales before the "big C" hits in July.

NVIDIA is introducing the nForce 500 product family that features full support for the new AMD AM2 processor series along with a bevy of features. Some of these features are new, some address issues with the nForce4, and some are preparing us for future options in NVIDIA's products. Let's see what these new features are and how they perform against the latest nForce4 platform. Do the glitzy new nForce 500 features deliver where it counts - in improved performance? Or is this just another round of incremental improvements - and clever marketing?

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  • artifex - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    they (NVIDIA) really took the networking side seriously on this release although most of the features are designed for the server/workstation market

    If they want the TCP/IP acceleration to be a draw for that crowd, they'd better fix this thing with firewalls not being supported. I could not imagine running a corporate server like that. And it's a bit much for them to hold out Vista as a possible fix, as many of us would like to wait a while before dropping Vista into production environments. Like a couple years. :)
  • Jaylllo - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Is it just me, or do ATI/NVIDIA/INTEL make up a boatload of stupid names for simple features?

  • afrost - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    So when do we get low power chipsets to go with our low power CPUs?

    Nvidia's mid to high end GPUs use less power than ATI GPUs....but it's the other way around for chipsets......????

    seems odd
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    So when do we get low power chipsets to go with our low power CPUs?

    Rumor has it, in the late fall. ;-)
  • FinFET - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    On this page http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?... the nForce 550's summary reads

    "Several of the higher and options have been dropped from the 550 chipset"

    I believe you meant
    "Several of the higher end options have been dropped from the 550 chipset"
  • Wesley Fink - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

  • peternelson - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    How can you say there is not improvement?

    The 590SLI gives increased number of PCIE lanes to total 46.

    These are available as 16, 16, 8, and six individual 1x connections.

    Assuming some slots on the motherboard:

    x16 slot: card x16 nvidia graphics card
    x8 slot: card x8 MYRINET 10 GIGANET hardware accelerated LAN

    I'm not particularly interested in consumer level SATA and LAN but consider them a free bonus. What MATTERS is that there is enough BANDWIDTH to use some PROPER peripherals without bottlenecks.

  • Egglick - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    The only new "feature" I'm really interested in is the TCP/IP acceleration, which lowers CPU usage. The rest of it is a bunch of gimmicks and garbage as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather not use those "features" at all, as they're much more likely to cause problems than any sort of performance boost.

    When I think of that, coupled with their stupid SLI Memory program (another gimmick), my view of NVidia's chipsets is significantly lowered. When the time comes for me to upgrade, I'll be strongly considering ATI's chipset offerings instead.
  • bob661 - Thursday, May 25, 2006 - link

    Your name should be Buttlick with that comment. So, let me get this straight (or gay depending on which way you swing), these extra features that Nvidia is giving us are apparently no good since you say so. The rest of us might as well just shut off our computers, grab a pr0n mag, and spank it like it's 1999. Jesus, who needs a brain with you around.
  • Pirks - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Yeah, right... ATI are completely smoke'n'mirrors free guys... cool! :)

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