Date Posted: July 16, 2002
Back when the original nForce was announced, we were eagerly anticipating what seemed to be cutting edge features at the time. While VIA was trying to get more performance out of the VIA KT266, and companies such as Intel and SiS were producing motherboards with laughable onboard graphics, the nForce looked like it was going to clean house in almost every segment of the motherboard market.
As everyone knows, especially those who were waiting, the nForce was very late. We had our own problems acquiring our nForce board, as retail samples were very hard to come by. Although we were quite pleased with the end result, it didn't quite turnout to be as revolutionary as originally anticipated. There were serveral things that held the n420 (the version of the nForce we looked at) back in the eyes of enthusiasts...
Timing: Had this board been released in the early summer of 2001, I really think nVidia could have staked it's share in the market. Instead, it merely performed on par (winning some benchmarks, losing some benchmarks) with the VIA KT266A. This wouldn't be a problem normally, if it weren't for the price of most nForce motherboards.
Price: One of the high points of most nForce boards were that they were feature-rich. Everything you can possibly need (though not what everyone may want) was included. Of course, the end result was not only a loaded motherboard, but also an expensive one. Granted, there are cost savings. Should you want to buy everything the nForce includes separately, you'll probably end up spending more. Then again, most users already have these items, thus it doesn't make economic sense to pick up the the n420 based motherboards, as the KT266A provided similar performance and a much lower cost.
IGP: The Integrated Graphics Processor caused the most uproar in our forums and private emails. The IGP was comparible with the GF2 MX, but by the time the nForce was released, most enthusiasts probably had GeForce 3 level graphics. For hardcore gamers, the IGP was woefully underpowered. The arguements, however, were not of the power of the IGP, but rather, the integration. Nobody wanted to pay for graphics they were probably never going to use. Thankfully, nVidia released the n415 shortly after, which has the same featureset as the n420, minus the IGP. Unfortunently, this may be a story of being too little, too late.
Despite the criticism, the nForce really was a decent chipset. For first-time buyers, or casual gamers, the nForce IGP was more than enough, and cheaper than buying every component separately. Performance was very good, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding was excellent. nVidia has listened to the public, and will hopefully address the mistakes they've learned from their last attempt to get into the chipset market.
System Platform Processor (SPP) and Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP)
Similar to the Northbridges most of us are familiar with, the SPP is nVidia's solution. You'll need a graphics card, as the SPP does not have an integrated graphics core, but it will support up to AGP 8X. Other noteworthy features are as follows:
DDR400 Support: Yes folks, that DDR333 ram you've been stockpiling is now yesterday's news. Well, we're exaggerating somewhat, as DDR266 and DDR333 will be backwards compatible. We'll get more into this later.
AGP8X: Although AGP8X video cards are not exactly gracing everyone's PCs right now, you can expect future video cards to support this new spec. Assuming it reaches it's theoretical maximum, up to 2.1GBs/sec of bandwidth is possible. Now, in reality, this will probably not happen, but the headroom is there for developers to make use of.
Hypertransport: Like the original nForce, Hypertransport and its 800MB/sec bandwidth makes it's return. This AMD technology is primarily responsible for communications between the north and southbridges.
Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Processor (DASP): This was a feature that was also included in the original nForce. The DASP watches the CPU and predetermines the requests that the CPU may make with the memory. Much like how cache works with your memory, the DASP works much the same way, where if it predicts correctly, the CPU will never have to go to the memory for information, thus speeding things up. In theory, this sounds great, but the reality is, we've never gotten the chance to see much improvement in our benchmarks with the nForce. There have been some changes to streamline the DASP, and to make it more efficient, but at this time we have no way of testing this. This will be a feature we'll be sure to look at in the future.
The IGP supports the same features as the SPP, but includes (NV18) GeForce 4 MX level graphics. I'm sure most of you are aware that the GeForce 4 MX isn't a popular choice for most enthusiasts, as it lacks a lot of Direct X 8.1 features, as well as some of the more advanced GeForce 4 Titanium features. I do think there is a place in the market for this IGP, and that would be for casual, or non-gamers. For todays games, the NV18 is more than enough at resolutions of 800x600 and 1024x768. If gaming isn't your thing, the IGP does support features such as TV encoding and HDTV. It'll be up to the motherboard manufacturers to include the supported features.
To get an idea of what to expect from the IGP, you can check out our GeForce 4 MX brief, but here's a quick summary...
AGP8x Graphics: After you're done rubbing your eyes, yes, you are reading that correctly, The IGP will be 8X compliant. Considering the fact that we're talking about the NV18 here, I'm sure some of you are wondering why all this bandwidth is needed? Well, outside of the fact that AGP8X support is built into the SPP/IGP anyways, the extra bandwidth may come in handy when doing chores such as video editing.
Accuview Antialiasing: This is a feature found on all cards named "GeForce 4", and is an excellent method of removing jaggies. Unlike before, where specific points of a pixel(s) were selected for sampling, what Accuview does is pull random spots of a pixel.
This method is not as rigid, or as mathematically correct as before, and the end result is a better looking image. Because everything is faster now, AA gaming is more playable, and with the addition of dedicated hardware multisampling on-die, the AA architecture is just plain meaner.
Video Processing Engine (VPE): The VPE is something that home entertainment buffs might find interesting. In the past, video decoding was quite CPU intensive. With the VPE, video decoding is now done in hardware. According to our press documents, a full MPEG-2 decoding engine is now integrated into hardware, using only 1/10 of the CPU processing power needed before.
nView: nView makes an appearance with the IGP, and works quite the same way as we're familiar with in the GeForce 4. What makes this remarkable is that for graphics, and multimedia authorers looking to build a cheap workstation can conceivably purchase a nForce 2 board, and have multiple scree support built right on the motherboard. Other nView features such as an integrated TV encoder and HDTV processor are also present.
Although we don't have a working production board to test with, we did receive some preliminary benchmark scores from nVidia. I'm choosing not to publish them, since it wasn't us that did these tests, but according to their scores, you can expect from 50% to 75% better scores when compared to the original n420.
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