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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  • Googer - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


  • Googer - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    AM2 Now Shiping at Newegg.com

  • Doormat - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    The media shield feature looks nice. Buy two drives for a RAID-0 array for the OS and whatnot. Then the RAID-5 array for all your important stuff (saved games, documents, pictures, etc). Having both arrays on one chipset is nice.
  • Pirks - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    Then the RAID-5 array for all your important stuff (saved games, documents, pictures, etc)
    Why would you penalize your write speed with RAID5 when there is RAID1? Why not get RAID1 instead of RAID5 and enjoy 1) reliability (same as RAID5) 2) speed (same as single drive for writing, faster than single drive for reading) 3) low price (no need for more than two hard drives)
  • mino - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    AND lower available capacity for the money you pay. You see 4 300G drives in RAID5 bring you 900GB of (cheap and reliable) storage. Do that with 4 drives and RAID1(or 0+1 for that) means i.e. 2x400 + 2x500 which is SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive.

    Remember there are guys with 10 drives, any situation you could economically justify 3+ drives for storage RAID5 is the most cost effective way.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 25, 2006 - link

    Too bad the integrated RAID 5 solutions from NVIDIA only work with 3 drives (and potentially one hot-swap). Maybe I'm mistaken, but I'm pretty sure you can't run 4, 5, or 6 drives in a single RAID 5 array using the NVIDIA controller. That's why you can do two RAID 5 arrays with 3 drives in each array. Problem is, doing RAID 5 without a lot of RAM for the RAID controller can really hurt (write) performance.
  • nordicpc - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Something I noticed yesterday while looking through the AM2 reviews that incorporated both ATI and nVidia's chipsets was the huge disparency in power usage, some 40 watts in some cases.

    Charlie D. has brought this up over at the Inq aswell.

    Not only with nVidia's 5x0 series do you need a huge chunk of copper with 3 pipes to eliminate the fan, but also you'll be paying a bit extra on the power bill it seems, for what? Some extra networking options that most of us never use because they are so dodgy.

    Where's the power consumption page on here?
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link


    Where's the power consumption page on here?

    They are coming in a different article as we just started receiving our ATI AM2, nF550, and other boards. The pull in by AMD was a stretch for the board suppliers who had planned on rolling the AM2 series out during Computex and shipping at that time. NVIDIA was caught trying to qualify drivers for both the video and platform side in half the time. We just received final AM2 chips on Saturday morning. ;-)
  • NullSubroutine - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

  • fitten - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    I concurr.

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