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...
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