All Aboard the Socket-754NVIDIA nForce3 150
When the AMD Opteron debuted in April this year, the only solution available then was the AMD-8000 series chipset which is mostly used to power Opteron-based platforms. In a certain point of view, this was more preferable since an AMD processor running off a platform defined by AMD would equate to many as a more stable solution. It was all the more better that AMD supplied the solution since the AMD Opteron was in untested waters to the general public. Although NVIDIA announced the launch of their nForce3 Pro platform that was also targeted for the AMD Opteron, the platform wasnt actually available en-mass till end of June and even then, the only option available was the Asus SK8N (which was only a single processor board).
In mid-September, the desktop CPU counterpart based on the AMD64 technology, the Athlon 64 3200+ and Athlon 64 FX-51 processors were launched for the both the high-end mainstream and extreme-enthusiasts market. With so many months of lead-time, every major chipset vendor had operable solutions ready for launch and numerous motherboard models from various manufacturers trickled down to the retail channel. The bulk of these motherboard solutions that we noticed were VIAs K8T800 and NVIDIAs nForce3 150, but other notable and equally promising platforms were from SiS and ALi. Even the AMD-8000 series supported the Athlon 64 processor but their core logic solutions were totally unattractive for the consumer segment and expensive to say the least. Hence, there wasnt any vendor crazy enough to offer a Socket-754 motherboard based on the AMD-8000 series for the Athlon 64 segment.
With so many Athlon 64 motherboards sprouting at this point of time, it only made sense for us to cover the capabilities of all the available core logic solutions in the market before we bring on the motherboard reviews (which we are also preparing even as you are reading this article).
For those of you who are familiar with the Athlon 64 processor or have learned about it from our CPU articles, you would have realized that that the one crucial function of the Northbridge chipset the memory controller is now totally integrated within the processor. Basically similar to the AMD Opteron (minus the SMP capability, the extra memory controller channel and extra HyperTransport links needed for glue-less SMP), the Athlon 64 communicates directly with the memory and this relieves the FSB bottleneck which now AMD claims, doesnt exist. As processor frequency scales, so does the speed of the memory controller within the Athlon 64, hence AMD fondly refers that their FSB is equivalent to their CPU clock speed. With memory support removed from the equation, this only leaves the platform chipsets to control the various I/O buses. Those who are quick to realize this situation might conclude that any Athlon 64 platform or motherboard ought to perform quite similarly. Is that really the case? Well thats what this article is all about as we peer in to find out the strengths and weaknesses of each of the following platforms:-
VIA K8T800 + VT8237
SiS755 + SiS964
ALi M1687 + M1563
We will first highlight the key features of all the four competing chipsets available for the Athlon 64 CPU before we discuss the performance matters.