At the back of MSIís booth was an NBOX N5900 Ultra card. This is the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra card with MSIís custom Twin Flow cooling, an 800dpi optical USB mouse, and the game bundle consisting of Battlefield 1942, Command and Conquer: Generals, and Unreal 2: The Awakening.
We reviewed this card last week and found its performance to be in line with other GeForce FX 5900 Ultra cards but the game bundle itself to be an extraordinary addition to the hardware. Reaction among readers was mixed, with some loving the cardís added cooling and games, while others didnít like the $50 price premium the N5900 Ultra retails for. MSI is watching how the market reacts to the NBOX, and already has a few plans in the works for follow-up versions. Itís possible that MSI may tone the bundle down to include fewer games (as three AAA titles is kind of pricey) while they are also considering a larger mouse design or replacing the mouse with something else entirely.
Unfortunately we canít be more specific at this time, but it is reassuring to see how closely MSI is watching the situation. Also, as of right now, MSI has no plans to bring the N5200 Ultra and N5600 Ultra to the US market, but weíve seen MSI reverse course before with previous products. Itís all about demand, if MSI USA perceives these products will do well here, theyíll green light these products.
Not to be outdone, VIA was showcasing a few new and upcoming products of its own. For starters was its PT800 chipset for the Pentium 4 platform. Like SiS 648FX and 865P, PT800 supports Intelís latest 800MHz FSB Pentium 4 processors and utilizes a single-channel memory architecture. PT800 is aimed squarely at the aforementioned chipsets as well as Intelís 865PE ďSpringdaleĒ chipset in the mainstream segment. VIA plans to use price and feature set to win over consumers, with the PT800 offering support of more USB ports than SiS 648FX as well as native Serial ATA.
Like Intel 865PE with ICH5R, PT800 supports RAID, although VIAís solution is more flexible with RAID Levels 0, 1, 0+1, and JBOD supported. The PT800 can also support up to four Serial ATA hard drives when used in conjunction with a Silicon Image external physical layer interface chip. Price of retail motherboards based on the PT800 chipset are expected to hover around the $90-100 range although weíre still waiting to see how these boards will perform in comparison to the competition.
If you need a little more horsepower, VIA is also hard at work on its PT880 chipset. Like 875P, this chipset boasts a dual-channel memory architecture, with a DDR400 configuration yielding up to 6.4GB/sec of peak memory bandwidth. This will also be the first product to take advantage of VIAís Quad Band Memory (QBM) deal with Kentron Technologies that was announced last year. QBM doubles the bandwidth of DDR memory, so a single QBM module operating at 400MHz boasts up to 6.4GB/sec of bandwidth. VIA is still working out the kinks of its QBM implementation in PT880, so the demo system VIA had on hand was using conventional DDR400 memory in a dual-channel configuration.
Not to be outdone by the Pentium 4 chipsets, VIA also had a dual Opteron system up and running with its K8T800 chipset. Unlike the other systems, which utilized VIA reference boards, this PC was equipped with a motherboard manufactured by MSI (the MS-9130). Hopefully this is a sign that retail motherboards based on this chipset arenít far off from hitting retail.