When nVidia launched its nForce platform back in early 2002, the market was expecting to see a huge change in the way AMD Athlon processors would perform. Not only was the performance of the nForce well below expectations but it took nearly half a year from launch date till the chipset would be widely available. nVidia's fatal mistake was to release the product information well ahead of its launch, by the time the chipset was available, VIA has perfected its KT266A chipset to combat the nVidia rival of the time.
On paper, the nForce was the ultimate in chipset technology, on the actual front line; the nForce had some major flaws which we will re-cap on now. First off the memory controller, while being able to supply double the memory bandwidth of the KT266A, the chipsets engine didn't distribute the extra bandwidth to the extra devices like the onboard video, Hyper-transport link and so on the way it should have. This meant that the nForce was essentially wasting all that extra memory bandwidth and when the onboard video was enabled, it used the 2.1GB/s that were being sent to and from the CPU, in essence just the same as every other SMA chipset.
nVidia, not discouraged by their mistakes, took a second shot at the nForce platform. This time, a lot more R&D would be put into their newest chipset. First off, nVidia waited until AMD had finally moved beyond the 266MHz FSB, in fact, the nForce2 is able to run 400MHz FSB, fast enough for the latest AMD Barton core.
Second, memory performance was to be upgraded to support Dual Channel DDR-400 memory which was designed to give full memory capability to the latest AMD CPU's as well as being able to route the extra memory bandwidth to the onboard graphics for the IGP versions and the Hyper-Transport protocols in order to produce a much faster chipset.
One of the biggest features of the nForce series was the Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-Processor or DASP. Unfortunately with the original nForce, the DASP suffered two major drawbacks that led the nForce to its demise:
- Prefetches got in the way of "real work", meaning they took bandwidth away from the CPU when it needed it.
- The latency reduction resulting from a correctly predicted prefetch wasn't as high as it could have been.
In the nForce2, a second generation DASP system has been implemented to combat the problems with the first generation. The nForce2 DASP now has better prefetching intelligence allowing it to correctly predict data that will be used next more correctly thus increasing efficiency. The improvement in prefetch intelligence comes partially from an improvement in the prefetching algorithm that detects when to prefetch data streams.
The combination of these two improvements to nVidia's DASP results in very competitive performance and in some cases, a significant performance boost when using Dual DDR. It is this improved DASP that nVidia attributes the extremely large performance gains in SPECviewperf to. But if SPECviewperf were the only situation that the second generation DASP improved performance in it wouldn't be all that useful. As such, today's reviews will not focus on the nForce2 architecture but more on the 8 motherboards we have collected to give you a best of the best look into nForce2 motherboards available today on the market.