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NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra Motherboard Roundup
By Zachary Chan
Category : Mainboard
Published by Vijay Anand on Tuesday, 19th April, 2005


Introduction

Following our Socket 939 roundup of VIA K8T800 Pro motherboards, we take a look now at NVIDIA's camp, more specifically the nForce3 Ultra chipset. The nForce 3 chipset as we now know it has undergone various face-lifts since its inception. The original nForce3 150 had a crippled HyperTransport (HT) bus operating only at 3x (600MHz) when competing chipsets from VIA had already had operational 4x HT buses. The nForce3 250 remedied this problem and the nForce3 250Gb further enhanced it by upgrading the built-in networking to Gigabit Ethernet. In order to stay competitive, the nForce3 Ultra chipset was subsequently released with a full bi-directional 5x (1000MHz) HT bus.

If one is partial towards NVIDIA and intends to purchase an Athlon 64 system today, chances are you'd still be getting a system based on the nForce3 platform rather than the newer nForce4. Even though NVIDIA is going full force promoting the nForce4 in all its flavors, unless you belong to the enthusiast group, the current attractive pricing and maturity of the nForce3 chipset would be a more important consideration than the latest and greatest. Some of you might have invested heavily into your existing AGP graphics card and it's not cost effective at all to dump it for a PCI Express version that's required on the nForce4 series. Furthermore, like the VIA K8T800 PRO, the nForce3 Ultra also offers many PCI expansion slots for those of us who've the need for them and the boards themselves still use the 20-pin ATX power supply connector. It is in this light that we decided to bring you a mini roundup of three of the most commonly found nForce3 Ultra boards available today.

Before we venture into motherboard specifics, the following table is a recap on the major features supported by the NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra chipset.

NVIDIA nForce3 Ultra Technical Specifications
Processor Support
  • Supports AMD socket 939 Athlon 64 CPU
  • Supports AMD socket 939 Athlon 64 FX CPU
  • Supports AMD Cool 'n' Quiet Technology
Front-Side Bus Support
  • Bi-directional HyperTransport interface to processor
    • 1GHz HT link (using a 5x HTT frequency multiplier)
    • 16-bit upstream bus width
    • 16-bit upstream bus width
    • 8.0GB/s maximum bandwidth
Networking & Security
  • NVIDIA IEEE 802.3 Media Access Control (MAC)
    • Supports 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet/Fast Ethernet/Gigabit
    • NVIDIA StreamThru™ technology
      • Isochronous controller paired with HyperTransport for optimized throughput performance
  • NVIDIA Firewall technology
Storage
  • SATA
    • Support for SATA 1.5Gb/s
    • Dual independent SATA controllers
      • Integrated SATA PHY with support for two drives
      • Digital SATA interface for external PHY with support for additional two drives
  • Ultra ATA-133
    •  Supports UltraDMA modes 6-0 (UltraDMA 33/66/100/133)
    •  Supports up to 4 IDE devices
  • NVIDIA RAID
    • Supports RAID 0, 1, 0+1 Arrays
Audio
  • AC'97 2.1 compliant interface
  • Supports 2, 4, or 6, or 8-channel audio
  • Dual AC-Link – supports up to two CODECs
  • S/PDIF output (stereo or AC-3 output)
USB 2.0
  • Supports 8 x USB 2.0 ports
  • Backward compatible to USB 1.1 standards

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