NVIDIA's nForce Reference System!

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NVIDIA's nForce Reference System
NVIDIA's Vision for a New PC Platform

By, Marco Chiappetta
January 16, 2002

When rumors began circulating regarding NVIDIA's entrance into the motherboard chipset market, both enthusiasts and OEMs eagerly anticipated details on the 3D Graphics Giant's new offering.  Then in June 2001, the "official" information hit and the excitement really began.  NVIDIA claimed their Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP) would be up to 10X faster than any other integrated PC graphics accelerator.  They incorporated AMD's HyperTransport technology, to provide approximately 6X the amount of bandwidth, between the Northbridge and Southbridge, than any other chipsets available at the time of the announcement.  The nForce would also have integrated high-performance DSPs to handle real-time 3D Audio and Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding.  The impressive feature list went on and on.

NVIDIA's nForce also incorporated some very interesting underlying technology like their "DASP" (Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-Processor),  "TwinBank" memory architecture and the "StreamThru" data transport system.  The DASP technology is, in essence, a data pre-fetch / caching technology that should provide a performance boost to any x86 processor by retrieving anticipated data before it is requested by the CPU, and storing that data for faster access.  We suspect CPUs based on the Thunderbird core will experience greater performance gains than CPUs based on the Palomino core however, due to the fact that Thunderbirds lack data pre-fetch circuitry altogether.  The TwinBank memory architecture offers up to a 128-Bit interface to the CPU, Graphics Processor and Media Processor, and a maximum of 4.2GB of bandwidth.  Finally, their StreamThru data transport system was to provide uninterrupted data streaming for improved network and broadband communications.  If, when the nForce arrived, all this technology worked as well as NVIDIA proposed, they would no doubt have a killer product on their hands.

Well, we've got one of NVIDIA's reference nForce boards in the lab today and we're going to find out just how good it really is.  Let's jump right in and see what the nForce can really do...

Specifications / Features of the Reference NVIDIA nForce System!
Plenty of Goodies...

Click any Image for an Enlarged view...
 
           
 
SPECIFICATIONS & FEATURES TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM NVIDIA'S PAGE
 

  • NVIDIA nForce System Platform Processor (SPP)/Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP)
    The nForce SPP/IGP redefines system and graphics performance for the PC platform. The SPP/IGP features the TwinBank? Memory Architecture for efficient memory processing, a Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-processor? (DASP) to help boost CPU performance, and the AMD HyperTransport, a high-performance I/O bus interface.
     
  • NVIDIA nForce Platform Processing Architecture
    Comprised of the SPP/IGP and the MCP, the revolutionary NVIDIA nForce Platform Processing Architecture includes: a distributed platform processing design that frees up the CPU for other tasks; patent-pending system, memory, and networking technologies for the most efficient processing and performance; integrated 3D graphics and 3D audio.
     
  • TwinBank Memory Architecture
    NVIDIA?s revolutionary memory architecture. TwinBank allows the CPU, GPU, and MCP simultaneous access to the system?s memory bandwidth, guaranteeing continuous access for all applications, all the time.
     
  • Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-processor (DASP)
    DASP applies a patent-pending, intelligent, pre-processing technology that stores application instructions and data before they are needed. This reduces the bottlenecks that occur between memory and the CPU, and graphics and audio sub-systems, thereby boosting overall system performance.
     
  • NVIDIA nForce Media and Communications Processor (MCP)
    The nForce MCP redefines the audio and communications experience for the PC platform. The integrated Audio Processing Unit (APU) brings unprecedented 3D positional audio and Microsoft® DirectX® 8.0-compatible performance to the PC, and a Dolby? Digital 5.1 encoder for truly cinematic-quality audio experiences. On the communications front is StreamThru?, an innovative technology providing an optimized pipeline enhancing networking and broadband; and the most complete suite of integrated networking and communications devices including Ethernet, HomePNA 2.0 and six USB ports.
     
  • NVIDIA nForce Platform Processing Architecture
    Comprised of the SPP/IGP and the MCP, the revolutionary NVIDIA nForce Platform Processing Architecture includes: a distributed platform processing design that frees up the CPU for other tasks; patent-pending system, memory, and networking technologies for the most efficient processing and performance; integrated 3D graphics and 3D audio.
     
  • Integrated Audio Processing Unit (APU)
    Delivers unprecedented 3D positional audio and DirectX 8.0-compatible performance to the PC platform. Provides real-time processing of up to 256-simultaneous stereo audio streams, or 64 3D and 192 simultaneous audio streams.
     
  • StreamThru
    NVIDIA's patent-pending isochronous data transport system, providing uninterrupted data streaming for superior networking and broadband communications. StreamThru assists in making streaming video and audio smoother and jitter-free.
     
  • NVIDIA nForce & Windows XP: A Perfect Match
    nForce supports a robust new feature set designed specifically for the new capabilities of Windows XP, including: digital music, DVD playback, 3D graphics, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, networking, and more. The pairing of nForce and Windows XP is a perfect match--the world's best platform processor powering the world's most advanced operating system.
     
  • Music, Video, games, and Photos
    World's best graphics/video technology
    Industry's fastest Windows XP 3D
    First and only DirectX® 8 audio hardware support with NVIDIA nForceTM
    Full DirectX 8, DirectX VA, and OpenGL® 1.3 support
    Full acceleration for Windows Media Player for Windows XP
     
  • New User Interface
    Windows XP Dualview multi-monitor support
    Industry's fastest Windows XP 2D
    Full hardware acceleration of new XP features
     
  • Networking/Communication
    Industry's highest networking performance with NVIDIA nForce StreamThruTM technology
    Safe and secure networking for remote connections
    Full acceleration for Windows Messenger, instant messaging, and teleconferencing for Windows XP
     
  • Reliable, Compatible, and Easy
    Exclusive NVIDIA Unified Driver Architecture (UDA)
    Microsoft Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) Certification guarantees stability
     
  • Mobility
    Award-winning GeForce2TM Go and QuadroTM2 Go with complete Windows XP support.

The above specification / feature list may be a bit long, but we suggest you take some time to read through each section and acquaint yourself with the nForce. 

There are now three different nForce chipsets in the works.  The one we are looking at today is the 420D which incorporates GeForce 2 class video, a 128-Bit DDR memory interface and 3D / Dolby Digital audio.  The recently announced 415D is basically the same as the 420D, minus the integrated video, and the 220 has a 64-Bit DDR memory interface and less sophisticated audio.  Because this particular nForce board is not a retail product, we won't be spending too much time scrutinizing the layout and commenting on build quality. 

             

In these first three pictures, you can see the MCP (Media and Communication Processor) or Southbridge, connectors for the case header and the Audio and Communications riser card.  Aside from the chipset itself, there isn't anything too interesting in the first shot, but take a close look at the external plate and the ACR card itself.  On the card, you'll see the 10/100 Ethernet connector, the line-in for the 56K modem, some audio outputs and a Digital Audio output.

             

In these next shots, you can clearly see the 3-Phase power array (with passive cooling), the Northbridge and the slot configuration.  I'm sure you'll notice that the Northbridge does not have any sort of cooling.  You'd think that with an integrated GeForce 2, this chip would get rather hot, but it does not.  After prolonged use, the Northbridge did get warm, but nothing to be concerned about.  If you're overclocking you may want to add some sort of cooling, but for general use, heat shouldn't be an issue.  This micro-ATX board we're looking at today even has an AGP and two PCI slots open for further expansion.
 

The BIOS and Software... 

 
Tags:  Nvidia, nforce, system, STEM, force, id

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