NVIDIA's Secret Weapon

The next issue we had was that the performance of the nForce2 platform in Business and Content Creation applications wasn't on par with our expectations. As you'll remember from our original article, the platform performed just as well as our KT333 test bed but NVIDIA had promised much more. It turns out that the added performance was there, it just needed to be unlocked.

The latest revision of the nForce2 drivers (2.81) have a bug in which the IDE drivers are not installed; this is quite unfortunate as a good deal of the nForce2's performance advantage over the competition in I/O bound situations (e.g. Business/Office applications) is because of their IDE drivers. The improvements in NVIDIA's IDE drivers are actually much like what we saw with Intel 845/850 chipsets with the Intel Application Accelerator, leading us to believe that the internal driver improvements are similar in nature. We already tried the new drivers with the old nForce, unfortunately an infinitely rebooting system was the result of our tests.

It took Intel around a year to produce the first revision of their IAA tools and it has been more than a year since NVIDIA released the first nForce, more than enough time to work on similar optimizations.

Armed with the latest version of NVIDIA's chipset drivers, an ATA registry patch and the latest IDE drivers we re-visited the nForce2 vs. KT333 comparison to see how things have changed…

nForce2 vs. KT333
Benchmark
nForce2
KT333
nForce2 Advantage
Content Creation Winstone 2002
46.7
41.4
12.8%
Business Winstone 2002
86.3
69.1
24.9%
SYSMark 2002 - Internet Content Creation
287
281
2.1%
SYSMark 2002 - Office Productivity
193
183
5.5%

It is a well known fact that the Ziff Davis Media Winstone benchmarks are considerably I/O bound (as is most daily PC usage) which is why the nForce2 does so well in those tests. Once again we see that the performance advantage isn't due to DASP or DualDDR (recall our earlier benchmarks of DualDDR) but rather NVIDIA's significantly improved IDE drivers.

The performance gains are much less in SYSMark as the benchmark never uses more than 10MB/s of disk bandwidth but they are still present.

NVIDIA was mentioning to us that they've received a lot of subjective feedback on nForce2 performance saying that nForce2 systems just "feel" faster than the competition. With these sorts of improvements in I/O intensive scenarios, we can see why. After all, when does your PC feel the slowest? When you're waiting on that poorly warranteed hard disk of course.

Just for completeness we've included benchmarks in the rest of our application suite to compare to KT333; as you can see, the large performance advantages vanish in most of the tests as they barely hit the disk.

nForce2 vs. KT333
Benchmark
nForce2
KT333
nForce2 Advantage
3DSMAX5 - SinglePipe2.max*
219
220
0.5%
3DSMAX5 - Underwater_Environment_Finished.max*
292
293
0.3%
Maya 4.0.1 - Rendertest*
70
71
1.4%
Lightwave 7.5 - Raytrace*
131.6
132.9
1.0%
Lightwave 7.5 - Radiosity Reflective Things*
88.7
89.3
0.7%
XMpeg DiVX/MPEG-4 Encoding
55.1
66.9
-17.6%
LAME MP3 Encoding*
84
84
0.0%
UnrealTournament 2003 Demo Flyby
158.6
156.5
1.3%
Jedi Knight 2
164.1
156.8
4.7%
Serious Sam 2
134.7
135.0
-0.2%
Comanche 4
49.73
48.25
3.1%
SPECviewperf 7 - 3dsmax-01
9.352
8.724
7.2%
SPECviewperf 7 - ugs-01
51.14
45.62
12.1%
SPECviewperf 7 - proe-01
58.83
52.44
12.2%
SPECviewperf 7 - drv-08
13.44
12.44
8.0%
SPECviewperf 7 - dx-07
12.4
10.54
17.6%
SPECviewperf 7 - light-05
5.306
5.291
0.3%

* Score in seconds, lower is better

The nForce2 leadership in SPECviewperf can be attributed to DASP and DualDDR as we discussed earlier.

We did notice a performance anomaly with our MPEG-4 encoding test, where the nForce2 platform was not able to come close to outperforming VIA's KT333. Considering the performance in all of the other areas we're assuming that this anomaly is a bug in the current nForce2 drivers with Xmpeg and the DiVX codec, we'll let you all know as soon as we have more information on the issue.

Update on Networking Integrated Graphics Performance

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