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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  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Does NTune 5 also work with NF4 boards? Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Does NTune 5 also work with NF4 boards?


    Yes, but depending upon bios support several of the new features will not be active. We have an updated bios coming for a nF4 board so we can verify which features do and not do work with full nF4 bios support.
    Reply
  • nullpointerus - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Does nTune 5 support multiple profiles and automatic profile switching? If so, do these things actually work properly? Unfortunately, nTune 3 was a mess on my MSI board. Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Does nTune 5 support multiple profiles and automatic profile switching? If so, do these things actually work properly? Unfortunately, nTune 3 was a mess on my MSI board.


    Yes to multiple profiles and working correctly, what is your definition of automatic profile switching? You can setup custom rules that will dictate how the system should operate under different conditions, a game profile for max performance or a DVD profile that will instruct the system to go in to "quiet mode" once a DVD is inserted if you are watching a movie as an example. We are still testing the rules setup, but so far, it works. We only received the kits last Friday so all major features were tested first but I am following up on the bells and whistles now. nTune 5 probably deserves a small but separate article on its features. We just received a new build last night so testing begins again today.

    We did report a bug to NVIDIA as the motherboard settings screen will not refresh correctly after loading a new profile. We had to exit to the main control panel and then return to the performance section for a refresh. I personally have close to 30 profiles setup for our test suites at this time. It is just a matter
    Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    quote:

    At the top of the product offering, the nForce 590 SLI consists of two chips, the C51Xe SPP and the MCP55PXE. This solution offers dual X16 PCI-E lanes for multiple graphics card configurations. While other features have changed, the overall design is very similar to the nForce4 SLI X16. The total number of PCI-E lanes is now 46, with 18 lanes coming from the SPP. Of those 18, two are used to link to the MCP and the remaining 16 are for the PEG slot.{/Q]

    Uh... I thought that the SPP & MCP were connected via HT? If only 2 PCI-E lanes were used, that's only ~ 500MB of bandwidth between the two. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    Sorry - that was smy fault and I'll edit it. Written while not thinking I guess. Reply
  • R3MF - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    "If TCP/IP acceleration is enabled via the new control panel, then third party firewall applications must be switched off in order to use the feature."

    this statement presumes that non third-party firewalls (i.e. nVidia firewall application) would work fine with the TCP-IP acceleration function.............?

    nVidia: here is a great function, but you can't use it without getting haXXoR3d

    ???
    Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    hey anand,

    wheres this dodgy nforce4 networking article that you been promising for weeks?

    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, May 24, 2006 - link

    quote:

    wheres this dodgy nforce4 networking article that you been promising for weeks?

    The nf4 tests with driver sets back to the 5 series is complete, waiting on release versions of the new 9.x platform drivers to see what actual changes have been made since 6.85 on the nf4 x16 boards.
    Reply
  • Wesleyrpg - Thursday, May 25, 2006 - link

    can people with the 'normal' nforce4 chipset use the 6.85 drivers or are we stuck with the bodgy 6.70 drivers. Reply

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