Another story is nVidia, the same company that more or less persuades you to buy a new graphics accelerator every six months or so. Apart from designing graphics accelerators and diligently working with Microsoft on the upcoming X-box gaming console they've announced their Athlon DDR chipset, the nVidia nForce. Not to be outdone by anyone, the specifications and prospective performance figures show us a chipset that will give the upcoming Intel i845, AMD's 760 or VIA chipsets a run for their money. For a company that has never before designed a chipset or any core-logic other than graphics accelerators, I think that that is a rather bold claim to make.
Designing graphics accelerators and chipsets for gaming consoles is a great way to learn the tricks of the trade, but unlike a gaming console the average home user will not run a identical configuration as every other nForce user. Quite frankly I think nVidia might seriously underestimate the complexity of the matter. Chipset design is not like graphics accelerator design, surely you can do things differently in the core-logic but you'll still have to adhere to AGP, PCI, ACPI, etc. standards to maintain compatibility with all of the peripherals and computer hardware that the user will be connecting to the chipset. In case of nVidia's graphics accelerators they can do pretty much what they like with their core-logic, as long as it interfaces with the AGP bus and outputs to the VGA-connector. Same goes for the X-box, as it will be featuring a custom Microsoft operating systems anyway, tailored to run exclusively on the X-box hardware developed by nVidia.
Fig 3. Nvidia's nForce chipset, comprising of the IGP and MCP.
Such is not the case with a PC motherboard chipset, I think the whole slew of problems and incompatibility issues AMD and VIA have had with their x86 chipsets for AMD and AMD/Intel CPUs goes to show that designing a chipset is not something to be thought lightly off. For nVidia to design a chipset from scratch that offers better performance and the same level of stability and compatibility that Intel/AMD/VIA have attained over the years sounds like something of a mixed bag to me, they lack their experience and expertise, the two main ingredients that help the others to make a chipset work.
Quite frankly nVidia's nForce chipset has just been released which basically means that nVidia has handed their reference design over to the motherboard manufacturers. This is actually a long way from introducing a finished, tried and tested, product to market. In the next few months we'll have to see how the motherboard manufacturers like it, they'll be testing and prototyping it and probably be releasing samples for us to get a glimpse at its prospective performance. Although nVidia has also released an accompanying reference design for the motherboard layout, which could arguably facilitate matters, I think that'll be a whole different game altogether, as we're not talking about a graphics accelerator, or a game console, but a motherboard. As mentioned before, a motherboard and all of its connections and peripherals is a whole different story.
Naturally we cannot blame nVidia for employing the same marketing tactics and jargon they've been so successful with to this new market segment, motherboards, they're going after, but I think we should take that with a grain of salt. I'm sure they'll soon realize that they can get away with these marketing tactics in a market segment they basically own, but it could become rather embarrassing if they cannot uphold their claims, people might just shy away from nVidia-based motherboards and go with something tried-and-tested. Lots of products have looked great on paper, and even performed admirably in the labs, but lets not forget that the proof is in the pudding.
I would more than welcome a high-performance chipset from nVidia, as quite frankly I haven’t seen any recent chipsets that would really justify an all-out system upgrade. It'll be interesting to see what nVidia can do with a motherboard chipset and whether they can deliver upon their promises. I do hope however that they won’t be releasing a new chipset every six months, as I don’t plan on upgrading that often.