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  NVIDIA nForce4, PCI-Express meets Athlon-64 
  Oct 19, 2004, 09:00am EDT 

So, what do you get?

By: Sander Sassen

As mentioned there is a difference between the three flavors of nForce4, the value edition offering just the basic features, such as 1.5GB/s Serial ATA and no secure networking engine. The nForce4 Ultra offers 3.0GB/s Serial ATA, or rather Serial ATA II, and all the other features besides SLI. The nForce4 SLI is just what the name implies; the SLI enabled version of the nForce4 Ultra. But what are these features and do they matter?

GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI-E SLI

Two PCI-E GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards running in a SLI configuration.

The SLI feature is without a doubt the most exciting feature of all, as we already explored in a previous article about NVIDIA’s SLI technology it will enable you to up your graphics performance by simply installing a second PCI-E graphics card. Not a bad feature to have, and one that will likely sell lots and lots of motherboards to gamers and enthusiasts looking for the edge in graphics performance. But lets not forget about the other features, the secure networking engine being one that will provide a more secure internet access in hardware.

MIO bridge installed

The high-speed digital MIO port bridge connecting the two PCI-E cards together.

Obviously it is not foolproof, user error or just plain ignorance still are the main causes for computers being compromised by viruses, trojans or other attacks. But it is a step up in terms of security and as long as you do not expect it to think for you. Just like you do not cross a busy street without looking left and right, you should not be opening attachments or run executables of unknown origin; no matter how much security you have installed.

nForce4 IDE and Serial ATA ports

Two IDE and four Serial ATA ports as found on the nForce4 motherboard.

Other major features of this new chipset are the support for Serial ATA II, offering 3Gb/s of bandwidth and NCQ, native command queuing, as well as a host of new RAID capabilities. Although Serial ATA II looks good on the feature list, there are no harddisks fast enough to saturate the bandwidth of Serial ATA so offering twice the bandwidth is kind of pointless. The new RAID capabilities however are most welcome; combining the Serial ATA with the Parallel ATA ports, cross-controller RAID, now becomes a reality, offering better safety for your data. I specifically mention the safety bit, as striping a disk image across a Serial ATA and a Parallel ATA disk is not buying you any performance gains and certainly has nothing to do with keeping your data safe.

nVraid utility

The nVraid utility showing the two Maxtor 250GB harddisks we used in our evaluation.

RAID arrays have more and more become a necessity for making sure your data is kept safe. With modern harddisks easily storing hundreds of gigabyte of data you can not simply buy a pack of CDRs and back it all up, and when you lose that much data it is often quite a bit more than a day’s work. A RAID1 array, comprising of mirrored harddisks, has become a good interim solution to keeping the data safe, and offering good performance. NVIDIA also offers the option to assign spare disks, which can be configured as hot standbys, protecting an array when a harddisk fails. But there is more, as the nForce4 is able to differentiate between a share spare, which can protect multiple arrays of drives, and a dedicated spare, which serves as a hot standby for a particular array, making this feature exceptionally flexible. NVIDIA’s hardware RAID implementation works hand-in-hand with the nVraid software suite to constantly monitor the harddisks and make sure your data is kept safe. In combination with SMART enabled harddisks this means early warnings to pending harddisk failure or other problems.

So how would I describe NVIDIA’s new the nForce4 chipset? In essence the nForce4 takes the features we’ve known and liked about the nForce3-250, a chipset that has an excellent track record and is one of the top selling chipsets for Athlon-64 to date, and updates it with PCI-E and SLI capabilities. Adding these two major features certainly justifies the nForce4 moniker. But besides new hardware features NVIDIA also adds new software that manages to unlock new performance with the help of nTune, a utility that goes beyond the Coolbits registry hack and optimizes, by overclocking key parts on the motherboard, your system to stable and safe levels. And the new RAID tool, nVraid, that, in combination with the nForce4 RAID hardware, monitors your harddisks and safeguards your data.

1. NVIDIA proudly presents
2. So, what do you get?
3. How much do you bench?
4. Summing it all up
5. Pricing information

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