nForce 730i / GeForce 9300 Up Close
First off, before we get into our test board today, we wanted to give a bit of info on the new features of the GeForce 9300 and 9400 chipsets compared to the previous generation NVIDIA chipsets for the Intel platform.
CPU and Bus Support
The 9x00 series all support the same CPU and bus speeds, where the older GF7 had different speeds for its varying models. Both chipsets support up to 1333MHz FSB along with all current Core 2, Pentium D, Pentium 4 and Celeron D processors. So whatever CPU you have, its supported across this family.
Boost in Memory
Compared to the GeForce 7 series chipsets, the 9x00 gives the Intel platform a boost in memory performance. GF7 used only a single channel memory controller, limiting the bandwidth to the CPU. This is extremely detrimental when you also consider that the IGP uses some of this bandwidth when it's stealing system memory for the graphics card.
The 9x00 series uses a dual channel arrangement and either supports DDR2 or DDR3 memory, depending on the manufacturer as to what they prefer to support. DDR2 is cheaper, however DDR3 offers a higher max bandwidth, especially when using 1333MHz and above modules. One thing is evident, however. If DDR3 is supported, NVIDIA's own SLI ready memory support is not included; this is a bit of a shame as SLI 2.0 memory allows for clock speeds of up to 2GHz.
PCI Express 2.0
In order to keep today's hungry devices fed with bandwidth, NVIDIA has included 20 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 connectivity into both chipsets. With this amount of lanes you can expect to see 9x00 boards supporting a discrete GPU slot as well as a couple extra PCIe slots and onboard devices.
The GF7 series of IGPs only allowed for four SATA and two PATA devices as well as only 10 USB 2.0 spec'd ports. The 9x00 series boosts this to six SATA devices, two PATA devices and 12 USB 2.0 devices. As normal, the SATA/PATA supports Mediasheild technology so that you have the option of setting the SATA drives in RAID function if this is your wish.
Now we come down to the important upgrade to the system, the IGP. The GeForce 7 series IGPs had a generation 7 graphics card. NVIDIA has increased the specs of the 9300 series to include a G86 based card, similar to the 8400GS based discrete solutions.
However, we are definitely not expecting the IGP to perform on the same level as the discrete card for one obvious reason; the system memory has no where near the bandwidth to supply the IGP with enough memory bandwidth to keep it happy. This is also the only time we see a difference between the 9300 and 9400 mGPUs. The 9300 and 9400 share the same 16 Shader Cores, however the clock speeds are different. The GeForce 9400 clocks its GPU core at 580MHz and Shaders at 1.4GHz, where the 9300 runs at 450MHz and 1.2GHz respectively.
Hybrid SLI finally makes its way onto the Intel platform. Hybrid SLI works by adding in a discrete GPU and allowing the onboard GPU to further increase the overall performance. How this works is simple; when the system is running in low to no 3D mode (such as idle in Windows or doing 2D video and picture editing) the onboard GPU is powerful enough to handle these tasks by itself. If, however, you want to run some 3D gaming, the onboard GPU calls on the power of the discrete GPU to handle the 3D rendering tasks, allowing for a boost in system performance while keeping power usage to a minimum. When the system is in onboard-only mode, the discrete GPU is totally shut down by way of the SMBUS.
The IGP of the 9x00 series are fully DVI and HDMI compliant, so there is no reason not to see DVI-I and HDMI ports on all NVIDIA 9300 and 9400 based motherboards unless they are a cheap and nasty solution aimed only for workstations.
Now that we have looked a bit into the chipset, let's take a look at our first 9300 based motherboard for today's shootout. Supplied to us by ASUS, we have on hand the new P5N7A-VM for your viewing pleasure.