Contact The Author
Wayne

Review Related Links
3DMark 2001
Vulpine GLmark
GL Excess

Current Pricing

 

ASUS A7N8X nForce2 Technology Review
Author : Wayne Date : 1st October 2002
...Product Asus A7N8X
...Manufacturer Asus
...Supplier AMD
...Price Not Known

 

 

 

 

UPDATE :

Having re-tested under slightly less hurried circumstances we actually found most of the scores remained the smae. Of significant importance is the increase in 3DMark score from around 14,700 to just over 15,100.

Introduction :

It seems to be an age since NVIDIA first announced the nForce2 chipset (am I allowed to call it a chipset?). At last we have our hands on some real life silicon courtesy of AMD who sent this board along with their new XP 2800+. As a result of this though we only have the very basic specs on the board so it's probably better to view this as a performance gauge rather than a full-on review of the ASUS A7N8X which will no doubt be covered in depth on other sites over the next few days.

Before we see if NVIDIA have a genuine AMD flag carrier on their hands let's take a refresher on the technology behind nForce 2.

What is Nforce2? :

nForce2 is a the natural evolution of nForce1 but rather than just add a tweak or two here and there NVIDIA have done what they know best, stepped back and asked themselves what the most demanding PC user wants from a quality motherboard. nForce2 will appear in various configurations all built around two "North Bridges" and two "South Bridges". These four chips will form the core of what looks like being an incredibly flexible and capable system that will allow motherboard manufacturers to offer a bewildering array of features and bundles positioned at a broad range of price points.

Main Architecture Features :


Demands on The Modern PC

Regardless of the chipset combination NVIDIA have redesigned the whole nForce platform with a range of much wanted features and improvements designed to take it well into the next era of motherboard design. The most obvious omission however is that of Serial ATA, something NVIDIA didn't feel the market was ready for yet and they're probably right. For at least another 6-12 months Serial-ATA will be a small, niche market accounting for a very small percentage of PC users and by the time it does become mainstream we'll no doubt be writing the previews for nForce3 or nForce4. As with our ASUS board some manufacturers have decided to add third party S-ATA controllers and depending on the success of these we may mean we never see native support from NVIDIA.

The main architectural features available to nForce2 users include ~

DualDDR™ Memory Design
Twice the Bandwidth – Half the Latency

Although it's essentially very similar to the TwinBank DualDDR memory architecture seen on nForce1 boards NVIDIA have added new and optimised pre-fetching and pre-processing memory request algorithms designed to keep the workload flowing through its twin 64bit memory controllers. NVIDIA have concentrated particularly on asynchronous memory performance and nForce2 now features full support for DDR333 and DDR400.

By using twin 64bit memory controllers rather than a single 128bit controller NVIDIA have targeted the problems of memory latency often encountered with rival chipsets. These two controllers work concurrently so while one may be reading or writing data across to main system memory the other can be setting up for the next access which theoretically cuts latency in half. Combine this with restructured write buffers and draining algorithms and NVIDIA are clearly hoping nForce will feature the most advanced memory architecture in the business.

By combining DDR400 with nForce2's dual memory controllers nForce2 will offer an incredible 6.4GB/sec. The great aspect of this though is that NVIDIA have completely decoupled the internal clocks when the SPP (non integrated graphics) North Bridge is used which means that CPU, AGP and memory can all function asynchronously with none waiting on the other. It also means that the AGP bus, memory bus or CPU FSB can each be overclocked independently. Bring it on!

Although both memory controllers are architecturally identical their control and timing parameters are independently programmable and as a result it's possible to utilize three DIMM slots with an increased maximum capacity of 3GB and a slot limit of 1GB. Many had assumed we'd see nForce2 offer four DIMMs but the flexibility added to the new architecture means DualDDR can simply adjust to the lowest common density that will facilitate 128-bit bandwidth, allowing a wide variety of different DIMM combinations to operate reliably regardless of the individual density and latency characteristics. DualDDR also adds a third address bus to the system to reduce loading and to ensure all three DIMMs operate at DDR-400, in addition to DDR-333 and DDR-266, all the time.

AGP8X :

Like AGP4X before it AGP8X offers the same 32bit wide bus offering data transfers of up to 2.1GB/sec running at 533MHz. AGP8X is fortunately backward compatible with earlier AGP standards.

Hypertransport for maximum system throughput :

As expected North and South bridges communicate using AMD's HyperTransport™ technology which offers a throughput of 800MB/sec.

Let's look at the specific chipset features ~

The "IGP" or "Integrated Graphics Processor" will head up NVIDIA's new and vastly improved assault on the integrated graphics sector. Onboard is a GeForce4 MX420 level GPU along with the various features that the standalone NV17 has to offer including Accuview™ Antialiasing, Multiple Display Combinations (nView), Integrated encoder for TV Support and of course the Video Processing Engine (VPE). The VPE has a full-hardware MPEG-2 decoding engine that puts into silicon the technology to process and decode MPEG-2 video streams meaning high quality full speed DVD handling without the need for additional decoders or graphics cards. Hardware features include includes inverse quantization (IQ), inverse discrete cosine transform (IDCT), motion compensation, color space conversion (CSC) functions, as well as hardware subpicture alpha blending.

 

Images Are Clickable

Combined with some of the advanced connectivity features we'll look at in a moment nForce2's integrated graphics and advanced architecture make it a perfect choice for live, real-time video effects. In the image below a live video stream is converted to a fully interactive 3D water effect allowing it to be distorted and rippled as if it were a real water surface.

 

As you've probably guessed the SPP or System Platform Processor is the non integrated graphics version of the IGP. Architecturally identical in every other respect this is no doubt the North Bridge choice that most enthusiasts will be opting for and it's good to see a non integrated video version available from launch.

  • NFORCE2 SPP/IGP SPECIFICATIONS

  • NVIDIA DualDDR Memory Architecture
  • Two independent 64-bit memory controllers
    - 3 separate address busses
    - 2 separate data busses
  • Supports 64-bit or 128-bit memory busses
  • Concurrent simultaneous accesses optimized for system and graphics
    performance
  • Supports DDR400/333/266/200
    SDRAMS
    - Supports 2.5V 166/133/100 DDR SDRAMs
    - Supports 2.6/2.65V 200 DDR SDRAMs
    - Supports 64MB, 128MB, 256MB,
    512MB, and 1.0GB modules
  • Support for up to 3.0GB Memory
    Integrated GeForce4 MX GPU (IGP)
  • Integrated 256-bit 3D and 2D graphics accelerator
  • NVIDIA Shading Rasterizer with 24 of
    26 DX8 pixel shading functions and full
    set of OpenGL® 1.3 pixel combiner operations
  • 32-bit color with 32-bit z/stencil
  • Digital Vibrance Control™
  • nView multi-display
  • Resolution support up to 1920x1440
  • Integrated NTSC/PAL TV encoder supporting resolutions up to
    1024x768
  • DVD-ready and HDTV-ready MPEG-2 decoding up to 1920x1080i ATSC
    Format
  • MPEG-2 hardware decode, including
    Inverse Discrete Cosine Transform and
    Motion Compensation
    AGP 8X Interface
  • Compliant with AGP 3.0 8X and 4X, with Fast Write data transfers
  • Supports AGP 2.0 for 4X, 2X, and 1X modes
  • Multiplexed with external DVI interface
    signals
    Integrated TV Encoder (IGP)
  • Support for various worldwide formats
  • Composite and S-video output modes
  • Display resolution up to 1024x768
  • Full Macrovision™ 7.1L1 encoding for
    DVD compatibility
  • Fully programmable 5-tap horizontal and vertical upscaling and downscaling to TV resolutions
    External DVI Interface (IGP)
  • Clock speeds up to full DVI specification of 165MHz (up to 1600x1200 at 60MHz in single link mode, up to 330 Mpixels
    per second in dual link mode)
  • Multiplexed with AGP 8X Interface
    Integrated Clock Synthesizer
  • Supports all FSB and memory bus asynchronous frequency combinations
  • Independent overclocking of CPU, MEM, and AGP clocks
    Power Management
  • Power On Suspend (POS) or ACPI S1
  • Suspend to DRAM (STR) or ACPI S3
  • Suspend to Disk (STD) or ACPI S4/S5
  • Supports C0, C1, and C2 states
  • Support for shut down of internal DAC
  • ACPI 2.0 compliant
  • PowerNow!™
    HyperTransport
  • High Speed (800MB/sec.)
  • Low Voltage
  • Differential
  • Low Pin Count Interface
  • Isochronous Link between SPP/IGP
    and MCP
    CPU Interface
  • Supports AMD Athlon/Duron CPU
  • 133/100/66 MHz FSB Clock
  • FSB clock and memory clock can be operated asynchronously
  • DDR400/333/266/200 Support 64-byte
    (cache line) data burst transfers

 

nForce2's MCP or Media and Communications Processors will also be available in two versions as mentioned earlier. The "value" version of their North Bridge chip will be simply known as MCP its more fully featured big brother will be known as MCP-T. Both the MCP and MCP-T are pin compatible meaning motherboard manufacturers should be able to quickly and easily inegrate both chips into their board range.

The full feature list is printed below but the key features are no doubt the support for USB 2.0/1.1 (up to six ports) and ATA-133 although the merits of the latter are somewhat questionable at the moment. Alongside this comes 10/100 Ethernet and AC97 audio handling.

Both the MCP and MCP-T offer HomePNY 2.0 support (Home Phoneline Networking Alliance) offering a "no new wires" telephone line networking option with speeds up to 10mbps and between systems spaced up to 1000 feet apart.

NVIDIA NFORCE2 MCP
SPECIFICATIONS

  • NVIDIA Communications Suite
  • USB 2.0
    - Single USB 2.0 Enhanced Host Controller Interface (EHCI) / Dual USB
    1.1 Open Host Controller Interface
    (OHCI)
    - Support for up to 6 ports- Supports transfer rates at high speed
    (480 Mbps), full speed (12 Mbps),
    and low speed (1.2 Mbps)
    - Dynamically configures slower devices
    for best utilization of bandwidth
    - Allows USB concurrency
  • NVIDIA IEEE 802.3 MAC (Media Access
    Controller)
  • HomePNA 2.0
    NVIDIA StreamThru
  • NVIDIA IEEE 802.3 MAC (Media Access
    Controller)
    - Supports 10/100 BaseT Ethernet/
    Fast Ethernet
    - Supports HomePNA 2.0 PHYs
    - ACR and CNR Interface Support
  • Isochronous Controller Paired with
    HyperTransport Results in Fastest
    Networking Performance
  • Dual Fast Ultra ATA/133 Disk DriveControllers
  • Supports Ultra DMA modes 6-0 (Ultra
    DMA-133/100/66/33)
  • Industry-standard PCI bus master IDE
    register set
  • Separate independent IDE connections
    for 5V-tolerant primary and secondary
    interfaces
    HyperTransport
  • High Speed (800MB/sec)
  • Low Voltage
  • Differential
  • Low Pin Count Interface
  • Isochronous Link between SPP/IGP
    and MCP
    AC ’97 2.1 Compliant Interface
  • Supports 2, 4, or 6-channel audio
  • Dual AC-Link – Supports up to two
    CODECs
  • 16-bit or 20-bit stereo output and
    16-bit input streams
  • Supports input, output, and GPIO
    channels for host-based modems
  • Separate independent functions for
    audio and modem
  • Supports ACR and CNR interface
  • SPDIF Output (Stereo or AC-3 Output)

 

 

The MCP-T which NVIDIA refers to as the "Digital Media Gateway" however is a very different and really quite exciting beast. To begin with it features an industry first dual networking facility dubbed....wait for it......DualNet. In addition to the the standard NVIDIA 10/100 Ethernet/Fast Ethernet port there's also an integrated industry standard 3Com 10/100 Ethernet/Fast Ethernet port and both ports are capable of concurrent operation. The Integrated SOHO Gateway truly does make this the industry’s most versatile and complete networking solution for the PC.

 

Also present on the MCP-T is IEEE-1394a/Firewire support but unlike the original nForce which implemented FireWire over PCI which can't actually offer latencies in line with IEE1394 standards, NVIDIA have now moved support on-chip so it's hardwired to run natively thus bringing performance back on track. This is of course in addition to the USB 2.0/1.1 support.

 

NVIDIA NFORCE2 MCP-T SPECIFICATIONS

  • NVIDIA Enhanced Communications Suit
  • IEEE-1394a/Firewire
    - Fully compliant with IEEE-1394a/Firewire specification release 1.1 OHCI and with provisions of IEEE 1394-1995 and IEEE 1394-2000
    - Compatible with Microsoft Windows Plug-and-Play (PnP)
  • USB 2.0
    - Single USB 2.0 Enhanced Host
    Controller Interface (EHCI)/Dual USB
    1.1 Open Host Controller Interface
    (OHCI)
    - Support for up to 6 ports
    - Supports transfer rates at high speed
    (480Mbps), full speed (12Mbps),
    and low speed (1.2Mbps)
    - Dynamically configures slower
    devices for best utilization of
    bandwidth
    - Allows USB concurrency
  • NVIDIA IEEE 802.3 MAC (Media Access
    Controller)
  • 3Com IEEE 802.3 MAC
  • NVIDIA DualNet
  • Concurrent operation of two 10/100
    BaseT Ethernet/Fast Ethernet Ports
  • NVIDIA IEEE 802.3 MAC (Media Access
    Controller)
    - Supports 10/100 BaseT Ethernet/
    Fast Ethernet
    - Supports HomePNA 2.0 PHYs
    - ACR and CNR Interface Support
  • 3Com IEEE 802.3 MAC
    - Supports 10/100 BaseT Ethernet/
    Fast Ethernet
    - 3Com commercial networking feature
    set for corporate environments
  • StreamThru
    - Isochronous Controller Paired with
    HyperTransport Results in Fastest
    Networking Performance
  • NVIDIA Audio Processing Unit (APU)
  • Dolby Digital Interactive Content
    Encoder
  • Hardware DirectX 8.0 Audio Processor
  • 256 Total Voices
  • 64 3D Voices
  • Downloadable Sample Version 2
    Acceleration (DLS2)
  • 32 Bin Mixer (8 voice volumes
    mapped to each bin)
  • Dual Fast Ultra ATA/133 Disk Drive
    Controllers
  • Supports Ultra DMA modes 6-0 (Ultra
    DMA-133/100/66/33)
  • Industry-standard PCI bus master IDE
    register set
  • Separate independent IDE connections
    for 5V-tolerant primary and secondary
    interfaces
  • HyperTransport
  • High Speed (800MB/sec.)
  • Low Voltage
  • Differential
  • Low Pin Count Interface
  • Isochronous Link between SPP/IGP
    and MCP
  • AC ’97 2.1 Compliant Interface
  • Supports 2, 4, or 6-channel Audio
  • Dual AC-Link – Supports up to two
    CODECs
  • 16-bit or 20-bit stereo output and
    16-bit input streams
  • Supports input, output, and GPIO
    channels for host-based modems
  • Separate independent functions for
    audio and modem
  • Supports ACR and CNR interface
  • SPDIF-output (Stereo or AC-3 Output)

One thing we haven't mentioned yet is nForce2's groundbreaking new integrated sound option. Their new APU (Audio Processing Unit) offers never before seen features to the nForce2 MCP, so much so it needed a page all to itself!

<<< Back to Review Index | Page 2 - A new kind of sound >>>

Home