NVIDIA's nForce chipset has sparked a considerable amount of interest from the hardware enthusiast community since it was announced last June. With its Twinbank memory architecture, HyperTransport interface, and Dolby Digital encoding support, nForce clearly stands out from the crowd of chipsets for the AMD Athlon/Duron platform. In addition, its built-in GeForce2 graphics core brings a new level of performance to the integrated chipset market. And while all this technology looks intriguing on paper, the jury has been out regarding nForce.
For starters, with NVIDIA's untested experience in the chipset market, many analysts (us included) have remained guarded when it comes to the reliability of the nForce chipset. We've all likely witnessed or heard horror stories of consumers with PCs utilizing system chipsets that were less than reliable. With products such as these, compatibility with certain hardware and software has been questionable; this in turn affects the stability of the system. Questions have also been raised regarding the price of nForce. With so many compelling features onboard, many expect prices of nForce motherboards will exceed $200. While this may not seem like much to a few, the bulk of the integrated market comes in at a considerably lower price point.
The final question mark surrounding nForce has been its performance. NVIDIA has released figures of its own regarding nForce's performance, but those were preliminary numbers taken months ago on older Athlon platforms. VIA's revamped KT266A chipset in particular looks to be a tough competitor to nForce in the performance department. Today we'll take our first stab at answering the performance question, but keep in mind that our numbers are taken from an engineering sample running with a beta BIOS and drivers. By the time retail nForce motherboards are available, performance will possibly be a little higher.
Speaking of availability, NVIDIA's nForce chipset has been in full production since September, right now NVIDIA's partners are hard at work on tweaking their final products. We're betting many will be on display at Comdex during this week. We'll be reporting on all the latest developments from the show floor, so be on the lookout for those articles shortly.
nForce reference motherboard
Visually, little has changed in the nForce reference design since it was unveiled at Computex earlier this summer. nForce sports a microATX form factor with two PCI slots and one ACR, while three DIMM sockets are also provided. nForce supports AMD's latest Athlon XP CPUs, as well as conventional Athlons and Durons. As you can see, the reference nForce motherboard also ships without a heatsink on the IGP. During testing the chip gets fairly warm to the touch when running with the integrated graphics enabled, but the stability of the system was excellent in our limited run of tests in Windows XP. Therefore, we wouldn't be surprised if motherboard manufacturers trimmed costs a bit by simply using a heatsink to cool the IGP, if a heatsink is even used at all.