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NVIDIA nForce3 250 Motherboard Shootout
By CPU-zilla
Category : Mainboard
Published by Jimmy Tang on Friday, 15th October, 2004


The author of this article would like to acknowledge Vijay Anand's contribution to this article.

Introduction

In our last Athlon 64 motherboard shootout, we took most of the popular VIA K8T800 and NVIDIA nForce3 150 motherboards out for a spin. At that time, NVIDIA was delivering the slightly inferior version of the nForce3 and because of their poorer specifications, as compared with the VIA counterpart, certain motherboard manufacturers chose to skip making motherboards out of that chipset altogether.

The publicity that NVIDIA received from the public and media for the nForce3 150 was not pleasant as well. Users were very quick to point out that the nForce3 150's HyperTransport bandwidth was below its intended specifications and thus, not taking the full benefits of the technology. Socket-754 Athlon 64 processors connect to the chipset through the HyperTransport bus which runs at 800MHz. However, NVIDIA chose to only clock their nForce3 MCP (Media Communication Processor) or chipset at 600MHz, which effectively reduces its working bandwidth to only 3.6GB/s, as compared to VIA's K8T800 which runs at the full 6.4GB/s rate. As if that was not enough, NVIDIA further crippled the MCP's upstream link to an 8-bit bus width, which is half of what was originally specified.

While the nForce3 150 showed little signs of performance degradation under typical benchmarks, a lot of users were not comfortable with the fact that it's after all, a chipset with crippled specifications. What's more, under heavy data loads, the nForce3 150 would probably choke under the intensity of certain applications.

After the announcement of the nForce3 150, NVIDIA later made known their plans to release a much more powerful MCP, known as the nForce3 250. The nForce3 250 will feature the full HyperTransport bus running at 800MHz in both directions, giving up to 6.4GB/s of data throughput. Besides that, the nForce3 250 also comes with support for up to eight storage devices, four based on the older Ultra ATA-133 interface and another four on the new SATA interface. Its MCP comes with two built-in PHY for the SATA interface while a digital SATA interface was opened as an option for motherboard designers to integrate another two SATA ports using an external PHY.

In addition to the nForce3 250, there's another variant with the Gb suffix, known as nForce3 250Gb. This particular MCP comes with a built-in Ethernet MAC supporting Gigabit networks. It still requires an external PHY but because it's built into the chipset, it offers other advantages such as NVIDIA's own brand of networking features like TCP segmentation offloads, jumbo frames and checksum offloads which is only available on the nForce3 250Gb.

Now, if you're confused about the different offerings of the nForce3 chipset, we don't blame you. In fact, we really hate the way NVIDIA segment their MCP products, so much so that there isn't a clear distinction between all of these products. Even their technical specifications were vaguely posted in their website. Here's a quick chart to help differentiate between the various nForce3 chipsets :-

NVIDIA nForce3 MCPs Compared
Technical Features nForce3 150 nForce3 250 nForce3 250Gb nForce3 Ultra
HyperTransport Clock Speed 600MHz 800MHz 800MHz 1GHz
Upstream Bus Width 8-bit 16-bit 16-bit 16-bit
Downstream Bus Width 16-bit 16-bit 16-bit 16-bit
Total HyperTransport Bandwidth 3.6GB/s 6.4GB/s 6.4GB/s 8.0GB/s
Integrated Ethernet MAC 100Mbps 100Mbps 1000Mbps 1000Mbps
High Performance Networking Features No No Yes Yes
NVIDIA Firewall Technology No No Yes Yes
Ultra ATA-133 Channels 3 2 2 2
SATA Devices Supported 0* 4 4 4
USB 2.0 Ports 6 8 8 8
CPU Support Socket-754/940 Socket-754/940 Socket-754/940 Socket-754/939/940
* SATA support on nForce3 150 is through an external SERDES chip on third Ultra ATA-133 channel - providing up to two ports.

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