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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  • Olaf van der Spek - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    <quote>These devices can be configured in RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and 5 arrays. There is no support for RAID 10.</quote>

    That's probably because there's effectively no difference between 1+0 and 0+1 on a good controller.
  • Olaf van der Spek - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    The FirstPacket technology is very useful for users who do a lot of uploading while playing on the Internet. The ability of the user to control the applications that receive packet-prioritization is a great benefit as the control panel is easy to use. We tested this feature thoroughly and it works exactly as advertised - IF the user has a need for that feature and uses it.

    Doesn't this require support from the modem/router too?

    The delay (usually) happens in the modem and not in the network card.
  • Zoomer - Saturday, May 27, 2006 - link

    No, because you make the bottleneck your network card, instead of the modem. :)

    There will be a slight loss of throughput. Read some QoS articles. lartc.org is also a good resource. I bet it's the same principle. ;)
  • Trisped - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    <quote>Multiple computers can to be connected simultaneously </quote>
    take out the "to"
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Thanks, it is corrected.....
  • Googer - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    When benchmarking core logic it's should be a high priority to measure I/O performance, since that is the primary job of any AMD Chipset.

    Where are the HDD, Network, Audio, and R.A.I.D. benchmarks?
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    Where are the HDD, Network, Audio, and R.A.I.D. benchmarks?

    I answered above but we will have full benchmarks in the actual motherboard articles. Our efforts in the first three days was to prove out the platform and features that were added or changed (still doing it, feels weird to be up almost 72 hours). In answer to your question-
    Foxconn Board
    Throughput - 942 Gb/s
    CPU utilization - 14.37% (with TCP/IP offload engine on), near 30% off.

    No real difference compared to nF4 as we stated. The numbers are within 1% of each other. The interesting numbers will be in our ATI SB600 comparison.

    Dependent on the codec utilized in each motherboard, the RealTek ALC883 used in most of them have the same numbers as the nF4 boards. The only difference is the new 1.37 driver set we used. It will be interesting in the comparison as Asus went back to ADI for HDA.
  • Pirks - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    feels weird to be up almost 72 hours
    That's why AT is my favorite review site - 'cause you're really crazy bunch :-) Just don't ruin yourself completely, we need you!
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    Dependent on the codec utilized in each motherboard, the RealTek ALC883 used in most of them have the same numbers as the nF4 boards.
    The ending should read NF4 Intel or ATI/Uli AMD boards. Where is that edit function? Hit enter too soon. :)
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    When benchmarking core logic it's should be a high priority to measure I/O performance, since that is the primary job of any AMD Chipset.

    They will be in our roundup comparison and ATI AM2 articles.

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