South bridge I/O capabilities and other excitement
Moving to the south bridge, we've consolidated the GeForce 6150 SE and 6150 under the same nForce 430 umbrella. Both share the same basic nForce 430 core logic, albeit in different chip implementations, and their capabilities are essentially identical.
|PCI Express lanes||4*||0|
|Serial ATA ports||4||4|
|Peak SATA data rate||300MB/s||300MB/s|
|Native Command Queuing||Y||Y|
|Max audio channels||8||8|
The SB600's PCI Express lanes are tied up in the chipset interconnect, so they don't allow for additional peripherals or PCIe x1 slots. Integrated graphics chipsets are most commonly found on budget Micro ATX motherboards that tend not to offer much in the way of auxiliary peripherals, both to keep costs down and because board real estate is limited, so there really isn't a need for loads of PCIe connectivity.
Both the SB600 and nForce 430 offer four 300MB/s Serial ATA ports, but only the AMD chip supports the Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI). AHCI is licensed from Intel, and it provides a framework for Native Command Queuing (NCQ) implementations. Rather than licensing AHCI, Nvidia's chipsets use the company's own NCQ implementation.
RAID probably isn't the most important feature for budget systems with integrated graphics, but if you're looking to roll your own closet file server, cheap Micro ATX boards with onboard graphics certainly have their appeal. Nvidia noses ahead in the RAID department, but only because it offers support for RAID 5. We've found chipset RAID 5 performance to be rather poor, though, even if it does maximize the storage capacity of an array. If you're looking to combine mirroring and striping, we actually prefer the SB600's RAID 10 implementation to the RAID 0+1 offered by the nForce 430. RAID 0+1 arrays can only tolerate the failure of a single drive, but in some cases, a RAID 10 array can survive the failure of two drives.
Onboard audio is an important consideration for budget systems. The SB600 and nForce 430 both support the "Azalia" spec, known formally as High Definition Audio, and the SB600 will also work with older AC'97 chips, giving motherboard makers the freedom to skimp even more on components (not that we'd recommend it).
With the SB600, motherboard makers are also in charge of networking. The chip doesn't include an Ethernet controller, leaving motherboard manufacturers free to dip into the vast array of PCI- and PCIe-based GigE chips on the market. Some of those chips offer lower CPU utilization than others, and those with PCIe interfaces tend to provide better throughput than those stuck on the PCI bus, so the onus is on mobo makers to pick the right one. Nvidia, meanwhile, squeezes a Gigabit Ethernet controller into the nForce 430, and it even offers a checksum offload engine to reduce CPU utilization.
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