NVIDIA's NFORCE3 250Gb - New Motherboards from MSI and EPoX
NVIDIA's System Utility
To help get the most out of the newest features of the NFORCE3 250Gb, NVIDIA put together a collection of utilities specifically designed for this purpose, namely NVIDIA System Utility, NVIDIA NVMixer, NVIDIA RAID and NVIDIA Firewall. These 4 components help to configure, optimize and monitor the full characteristics of the NFORCE3 chipset.
NVIDIA System Utility
The NVIDIA System Utility was specifically designed to allow users to monitor system status, as well as manipulating bus and memory timings. This gives users quick access to Processor, Memory, Driver and System performance information. Additionally, the utility can access the memory and AGP bus for overclocking the system from within Windows. This works on a per-session basis, returning the system to its defaults at reboot. There is also an option to save and load profiles for easy switching depending on your need. Below is a screenshot of the basic utility available from NVIDIA's web site, although their goal is to allow OEM's to customize the utility to work with their specific configurations. At this time, neither EPoX nor MSI included a copy with these motherboards.
NVMixer provides access to all of the onboard audio features that the NFORCE3 250Gb has to offer, allowing for basic adjustments such as volume, EQ, and recording options as well as providing easy to use wizards for quick setup. Currently NVIDIA plans to release this utility with their next Forceware driver update.
When it comes to tapping the full potential of the NFORCE3 250's RAID capabilities, NVIDIA RAID is a nice add-on. This utility is a simple, yet powerful tool for building RAID arrays with any combination of SATA/PATA hard drives. It can also monitor the current status of an array. One of the most useful options is Spare Disk Allocation which let's you allocate a reserve drive as a fail over in the event a drive on the array malfunctions. This takes the panic out of a drive failure, leaving valuable time to acquire a replacement drive. NVIDIA plans to release NVRAID with their next Forceware driver update as well.
The NVIDIA Firewall utility holds the key to all of the settings and capabilities of the hardware firewall integrated into the NFORCE3 250Gb. With NVIDIA's hardware firewall enabled, this allows the machine to run in full stealth mode, showing no open ports available. This is a essential when connected via broadband where sniffers can seek out a systems with open ports. If open ports are found, these sniffers can target the system and attempt various exploits.
Want to see how secure your setup is? Check out www.grc.com and follow the links for ShieldsUp. This web site has been around for years, exposing weaknesses in Microsoft code and helping users plug the holes to stay safe.
Our opinion is that NVIDIA has put together a good collection of features backed by a complete unified driver package to help users get the most out of the NFORCE3 250Gb. Now that we have gotten a good handle on what those new features are, it's time to turn our attention to the two NFORCE3 250Gb motherboards sitting on the HotHardware test bench and see what each has to offer.