Introduction and History Lesson
nVidia's chipset portfolio has always been one to watch, especially over the last two years, they really have put nails in the enthusiast coffin, for most other chipset brands, that is.
Platform chipset wise, nVidia is still very new to the game, only starting to come into the mix when Athlon was Socket A based. Intel, VIA and SIS had already made their names back in Socket 7 era. nVidia certainly had its ups and downs with their chipsets, more ups than downs, but one big thing that really could have set them back quite a long way.
nVidia really had some revolutionary design tactics when they first wanted to bring the nForce chipset to market, a Socket A designed chipset with Dual Channel DDR memory support, hardware 5.1 audio support and overclocking all in one neat package but it was a disaster. The chipset suffered yield problems meaning there wasn't enough, next the memory controller was too picky about what RAM it would use, and its dual channel memory support didn't give any performance advantage over the cheaper VIA KT series chipsets, the only real plus was the hardware 5.1 audio.
Rather than simply sticking an extra letter onto the name to make it look like a new revision (something VIA was guilty of quite a bit with the KT266A, KT333A and KT400A) nVidia took its chipset and threw it in the bin in favour of a new design. nForce 2 was the result and this baby really had some big pull. It featured a new memory controller that worked properly in Dual Channel mode with just about every module up to 400MHz. The FSB system was enhanced to allow overclocking greater than that of the VIA or SiS counterparts and the MCP was updated with new audio features and onboard networking.
When AMD's Athlon went to the new K8 architecture, nVidia was right there with the nForce 3 chipset, the first incarnation, nForce 3 150 was more of a make shift chipset, it had a few bugs, such as not running at the full 800MHz hyper transport speed that the K8 was designed to run at, it would only make 600MHz, any attempt to hit 800 resulted in a non posting system. The nForce 3 250 series fixed this as well as adding in additional Serial ATA features and Gigabit LAN. Overclocking improved for the 939 series and speeds of 1000MHz and 1600MHz were added for the FX series CPU. One thing that was a major disappointment was the removal of the hardware 5.1 audio.
This then brought us to nForce 4 chipsets where nVidia started to embrace the Intel platform. nForce 4 was the first chipset series to bring back SLI, a technology that they acquired when nVidia brought out 3DFX. Today's SLI differs from the old SLI 3DFX designed, SLI today is a serial system rather than parallel bus. nForce 4 SLI Intel edition chipsets made their way into the market about six months after the release of the AMD version, nVidia was a bit sceptical about the Intel market, after all Core 2 was still not even on the drawing board.
The nForce 5 chipset for Intel platform came and went with only a single variety, the 590SLI Intel Edition. This chip was highly criticized as its was simply the old nForce 4 SLI Northbridge with a new MCP, that meant all the poor overclocking performance was returned to the 590SLI Intel chip. nVidia simply decided to put this one to bed in favour of a new 600 series chip.
The nForce 600 series chips for Intel consist of the 680i SLI, 650i SLI and 650i Ultra. 680i SLI consists off all the enthusiast features such as dual full-speed x16 slots as well as a third x16 slot running x8 speed for a third graphics card for physics or for extra monitors. 650i SLI also allows you to run dual graphics cards in SLI mode but the two PCI Express x16 slots only ran x8 and the 650i Ultra doesn't support any SLI features at all.
Unfortunately between 650i SLI and 680i SLI there is a large price gap. So if you want full-speed SLI and other performance enhancements attributed to the 680i SLI, you need to pay a premium, right? Not according to ASUS who designed a rather unique chipset which is the basis for today's article. The P5N32 Hybrid SLI allows you to run dual full-speed SLI graphics cards on the board by combining the 650i SLI Northbridge with the 590SLI MCP Southbridge from the AMD platform chipset.
Whether nVidia looked at this and though it was a good idea or had this chip in the pipeline is unknown, but today we have the beefed up 650i SLI chipset which has now been given the name nForce 680i LT SLI.
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