NVIDIA's nForce Reference System! - HotHardware

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

THE BIOS:

Our board was equipped with a PheonixBIOS that wasn't terribly "feature rich", but it did have some options to play with...

                 

                 

                 

Because this wasn't a retail product, we didn't expect the BIOS to be very complete.  If you take a look through the above screenshots, you'll see that there weren't too many "tweaker friendly" options.  We did, however, have the ability to choose between 10 different FSB speeds between 100 and 153MHz, and had the ability to set the memory CAS latency, enable or disable ACPI and a few other settings were present to configure the on-board video.  If you choose to use the on-board video, there is something interesting to point out.  You'll have the ability to set you AGP clock to 100MHz, to give the integrated GPU a boost in performance.  If an add-in video board is inserted, the AGP clock is set back to 66MHz though.

Installation and Drivers
Lot's to see...

 
INSTALLATION:

Setting up this nForce system was an absolute breeze.  There are a few important points to take into consideration though.  The 415-D and 420-D versions of the nForce have a 128-Bit memory interface, but to take advantage of this wider interface you will have to use DIMMs in pairs. (If you're planning on 512MB of system RAM, you'll have to buy two 256MB DIMMs)  If you configure the system with a single DIMM, the chipset will revert to a 64-Bit interface.  With regards to the memory, there is something else to consider as well.  NVIDIA has incorporated a "feature" dubbed "Super Stability".  If an nForce board is set up with an unsupported memory configuration, the memory speed is reduced from 133MHz to 100MHz to help maintain system stability.  Should you purchase an nForce based motherboard, be sure to follow the memory configuration guidelines, or have your vendor pre-test your parts before shipping them out to you.

With the rest of the hardware, there isn't too much to talk about.  Because the motherboard has so many integrated components, there is very little "assembly required".  Just add your CPU, plug in the Audio / Communication riser card and mount everything in your case and you're all set.  NVIDIA even made installing the drivers and software as simple as possible.  Even with the multitude of integrated components, there is only one 4.7-6MB file (depending on your OS) to install all of the necessary drivers!  The screenshot to the left shows most of the items that will be listed in you Device Manager after the drivers are installed.  One thing that is missing form that shot is the NIC, our system was setup to use the integrated modem and we were not able to disable it to enable the NIC (Which is what we were told we'd have to do).

The video portion of the drivers is exactly like the reference drivers we've seen many times before, so we won't bore you with to many regurgitated details.  As you can see in the above shot, the version we tested with was 22.90.

      

One aspect of the drivers you may not be familiar with is NVIDIA's audio control panel.  From within these four panels, users can change many of the sound options and output preferences for both the analog and digital outputs.

      

There are also controls for MIDI output and a simple panel outlining the driver and hardware versions and other information.  Future driver revisions should also add controls for A3D and EAX preferences, because these 3D sound standards are supported by NVIDIA's hardware.

While we're looking at the drivers and control panel options, we should talk a bit about sound quality and performance.  Over the last few months I have personally been working with Sound Blaster Live!s, Audigys, C-Media 6-Channel audio, Hercules Game Theater XPs and a plethora of other assorted on-board solutions and can honestly say that the output from NVIDIA's MCP rivals them all.  For enthusiasts, or audiophiles an Audigy or Game Theater XP may offer some more compelling features, but for the vast majority of users and casual gamers, NVIDIA's audio solution is excellent.  Playing DVDs and gaming with the nForce's on-board audio was great.  We didn't perform any "formal" testing on our own, but CPU utilization is reportedly lower than any add-in product as well.  Considering the drivers are sill "new" and this is NVIDIA's first major attempt and audio, they've done a fine job.
 



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