NVIDIA nForce4 Chipset Preview
NVIDIA devoted significant resources to improving its storage solution with the nForce3 250Gb, and with good reason since the nForce3 150 didn't even offer native Serial ATA support. The nForce4 takes NVIDIA's investment into storage a step further.
The list of nForce4's storage features is long and distinguished, but one of the most interesting features is support for the upcoming SATA II standard, which runs at speeds of up to 3 Gbps. Performance isn't expected to change dramatically, especially in light of standard Serial ATA's impact. However, there are other features, such as NCQ (Native Command Queuing), that should help substantially. It's also important to note that the vanilla nForce4 doesn't support the revised updated setting.
Even if you aren't willing to purchase new SATA II hard drives, nForce4 has plenty to offer. All models of the chipset support four Serial ATA ports and two ATA-133 ports (each of which supports two drives). Moreover, the three variations all include NVIDIA's dual-controller architecture that purportedly alleviates the bandwidth limitations imposed by competing platforms with four channels that originate from a single controller. By using independent data paths, NVIDIA claims that it enables up to two times more throughput during disk transfers.
One of the greatest aspects of NVIDIA's storage implementation is that it natively supports RAID 0 striping, RAID 1 mirroring, and a combination of RAID 0+1 for striping and mirroring. Moreover, it supports those three disk technologies across both ATA-133 and Serial ATA ports, allowing any combination of drives connected together.
Let's say that you're currently running a RAID 0 array on an nForce4 motherboard and you decide that you'd prefer to safeguard your data with a RAID 1 array rather than pursue performance with RAID 0. The typical course of action would be to destroy the RAID 0 configuration, use the controller's software to rebuild a RAID 1 array, and reinstall your software. The addition of RAID morphing to NVIDIA's powerful software simplifies that process to a single step that doesn't sacrifice data as it converts the RAID array. Should you decide that the security of a RAID setup isn't enough, nForce4 will also accommodate a spare hard drive of the same capacity to serve as a standby in the event that one of your primary disks should fail. The spare is automatically invoked if NVIDIA's software detects a failed drive.
In the unfortunate event that a drive should indeed go out on you, NVIDIA has what it calls a Disk Alert System that displays a picture of the motherboard and specifically indicates the failed connector. In a mission-critical machine that can't be shut down, being able to identify a bad drive can be very helpful. By also supporting hot-plug capabilities, it's possible to completely maintain an ailing storage subsystem.