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  nVidia, thinking outside of the Xbox? 
  Jun 11, 2001, 09:00am EDT 
By: Sander Sassen

NVidia, need I say more? The company single-handedly revolutionized the graphics card industry in less than five years time. From an under performing Riva 128 that was bested by 3dfxís Voodoo graphics, to a GeForce3 that offers features that brings their ultimate goal, computer graphics indistinguishable from real life, just another step closer. When they struck a deal with Microsoft for producing the chipset and graphics card for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox gaming console things got even more interesting.

While nVidia has now had many years of experience with designing and manufacturing graphics cards, their deal with Mircosoft meant they had to get down and dirty with other core logic too, namely chipsets and memory interfaces to name a few. One of the spin-offs of this project has been introduced last week, the nVidia nForce chipset. But its not nVidiaís graphics cards or Xbox project I wanted to shed a new light on. But rather the new market theyíve set out to explore with their nForce chipset.

Granted, in my previous editorial I was a little pessimistic about nVidiaís ability to engineer and introduce a chipset whose prospective performance is better than anything offered by the other manufacturers. I questioned their ability to uphold their performance claims or their ability to get the nForce chipset out to the market on time. I also second-guessed their ability to make their chipset not only perform better than any other chipset but also match their stability and compatibility. Quite frankly, Iím still skeptic about all of these, but due to some feedback and an email I received from nVidia I did start thinking out of the box and have a fresh take on the matter that Iíd like to share with you.

Chipsets made by either Intel, AMD, VIA, regardless of the brand, they all offer a large number off them, tailored to fit a particular market segment and offering support for different types of CPU and memory. Whether your system has an AMD or Intel CPU, VIA has a chipset thatíll interface with it, and thus can be considered the jack-of-all-trades. AMD and Intel only manufacture chipsets to support their own CPUs, and while Intel markets them aggressively, as was evident from the whole VIA Pentium 4 chipset issue, AMD more or less manufactures them as proof of concept to show VIA how its done.

With all of these chipsets on the market what part could the nForce play? Another contestant for the performance crown? A dead-ringer to take the integrated solution market by storm? Feature wise it leaves little to be desired and it will certainly wipe the floor with anything integrated Intel or VIA has to offer, but will the price justify the purchase? From Intelís point of view, and that of many other manufacturers, itís too expensive to compete in the integrated market and too limited to be considered a high-end solution. But is it really?

Lets take a different look at things, what was the main concern many had when ATI released their Radeon? Exactly, drivers, or rather frequent driver updates, which included new features and offered performance increases. Did ATi deliver on the goods? Not really. Did that weaken their position against nVidia who released, or rather leaked, new drivers every other week or so? You bet! One of the main concerns many had with ATiís Radeon was not its feature set or the performance, but rather if ATi would be able to keep on improving on an already good product with frequent driver updates.

Another detour, what has made Creative Labs king-of-the-hill in sound cards for the past two years? Exactly, drivers, due to the upgradeable nature of their EMU processor as featured on their Live! product line they kept on improving their product, adding new features and improving performance.

What if we were to combine these things into one product, a super integrated solution that offered everything youíd normally expect from add-on cards, with frequent driver updates that improve the performance and add new features. Sounds good? Thereís more to it though.

Remember when you plugged that new Live! into your VIA KT133 chipset motherboard? It didnít work right away? You had IRQ issues? Popping sound? Performance was horrible? Not anymore! With an integrated solution you wonít have to worry about all of the different parts working together properly, and you just need one set of drivers, and not a whole bunch of them, to get it all to work.

But thereís more, what if the performance of that chipset was the same as any available chipset or maybe even better, would you not welcome it? Would that not do away with the need to buy all the add-on cards? For your sisterís system you just use the onboard video, as all she does is use Word or some other office apps. For your own system you disable the onboard video, plug in a GeForce3, and order another stick of DDR memory and youíve got yourself a real performer. All of that from a single chipset, no driver hassles, no compatibility issues, and good scalability, all in one package. Buy the motherboard today, get a GeForce3 when next monthís paycheck comes in and add another stick of DDR memory when you feel like it.

Now, would you want to pay a price premium for having all of your performance, driver, compatibility and lets not forget upgrade issues solved in one fell swoop? I sure would! If nVidia is able, and Iím still being skeptic here, to uphold their promises, and can actually keep improving on things like they have been doing with their graphics drivers, things could get very interesting when the nForce chipset is released.

Sander Sassen

What do you think? Would you mind paying a premium? Does nVidia powerplay and want monopoly? Does your nForce board need to have 64-bits PCI slots? Please use the Discuss This Article link below!

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