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AMD64 PCI Express Chipsets - nVidia nForce 4 vs. ATI 200 Series

By: Shawn Baker | Editorials in CPUs, Chipsets & SoCs | Posted: Jan 5, 2005 5:00 am


The Chipset Rundown


We saw ATI make its first attempt into the mainstream motherboard market not too long ago powering the Intel Pentium 4 processor. They were really entering a tough market, while it didn't scream out to the enthusiast market if you pay much attention to the channel you will have seen just how well it was in the system building market. While it wasn't the cheapest motherboard around that offered onboard video, it was by far the best on offer in this department. Below we are given a brief explanation on the difference of the 2 chips that ATI have on offer.



ATI have decided to jump ship this time and try and get in and take some of the market share from their biggest competitor, nVidia. Being their first chipset in the AMD market you can't expect the world from it as like all things we learn as we go. If you remember nVidia's first AMD chipset (the original nForce) there is no doubt you will remember the amount of issues it was plagued with and the lack of features to be had.


Nevertheless we aren't here to try and predict what might or might happen in the future so let's take a closer look at what this new AMD64 chipset is all about from ATI.


Platform Overview


The ATI 200 Series supports all the usual technology you would expect; of course you have support for both Dual Channel and Single Channel memory which is decided by the processor with its on-chip memory controller. The motherboard then has its onboard graphics support which offers both DVI and normal VGA output.


We also have four 1X PCI Express lanes, AC97 Audio, four SATA ports, two PATA ports, eight USB2.0 ports and support for RAID 0 and 1.




The networking side of things shows us that ATI are using the PCI Express bandwidth on offer using both the Broadcom and Marvell controllers. The PCI Express bandwidth offered is much greater then the original PCI bandwidth which means that we are going to get greater performance out of gigabit networking and no bus flooding which we saw on the poor old PCI bus which just got saturated and caused problems for the rest of the system. Both companies offer excellent network controllers so which ever one ATI's partners choose to use you shouldn't run into any problems at all.


Onboard Video


The biggest thing that is going for ATI is the built-in graphics controller which is also connected directly to the PCI Express bus and offers similar performance to that of the Radeon X300 which we had a look at a while ago. One feature that we haven't seen before is onboard DVI which while it isn't a huge thing, the biggest advantage of this feature is that is also has a normal VGA port, with a DVI to VGA connector. This means can have a multi monitor setup without having to go and purchase a separate graphics card.


ATI hope to get peoples attention with their onboard video which is great for people who want to build a cheap PCI Express system which makes it easy to upgrade to a faster PCI Express graphics card later on. When you do finally upgrade to a full blown PCI Express graphics card you then have the ability to get four monitor support. This is a great feature for anyone who is into CAD or something that really can make use a huge number of monitors - just like us when we multitask writing these reviews.


The onboard graphics offers all the features that the standard X300 would offer including Direct X 9.0, Vertex Shader 2.0, Pixel Shader 2.0 and support for AA and AF.


The Overall Feeling


Apart from the onboard graphics ATI really doesn't seem to have a lot going for it as far as features go due to it being a basic new chipset.


We can't expect ATI to bring out the nVidia beating chipset straight away but we will have to see how the performance goes when compared against the nForce 4 chipset which we have here with us today.


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