Single page Print

PCI Express comes to the Opteron


A trio of dually nForce Pro 2200 mobos compared
— 12:21 AM on May 11, 2005

NVIDIA ANNOUNCED ITS nForce Pro 2200 chipset back in January, setting Opteron aficionados' hearts aflutter with the prospect of dual-processor systems with PCI Express. The nForce Pro 2200 packs more than just PCI-E, though. It's also equipped with integrated Gigabit Ethernet, Serial ATA II, and extensive RAID support. It even brought a date. NVIDIA launched the 2200 with an optional nForce Pro 2050 companion chip that promises to double the nForce Pro's storage and expansion capabilities.

Several months after NVIDIA's initial nForce Pro announcement, boards are starting to trickle onto the market. We've collected a trio of offerings from this initial wave of products, including Asus' K8N-DL, Iwill's DK8ES, and Tyan's Thunder K8WE, and run them through a punishing gauntlet of tests to expose their strengths and weaknesses. Join me as we explore the first nForce Pro 2200 implementations to hit the market and determine which is right for your Opterons.


The nForce Pro 2200

Introducing the nForce Pro 2200
Before we dive into these three nForce Pro implementations, it's worth taking a moment to examine the chipset itself. "Chipset" is usually a misnomer when referring to NVIDIA's core logic solutions for AMD processors, since the recent nForce3 and nForce4 families have been single-chip designs. The new nForce Pro lineup actually consists of two chips, though: the nForce Pro 2200 and nForce Pro 2050. Although they're designed to work together, the nForce Pro 2200 and 2050 are far from a standard north/south bridge pair.

You wouldn't guess it from the name, but the nForce Pro 2200 is essentially an nForce4 Ultra for Opteron. The chip sports a 16-bit/1GHz HyperTransport link, 20 lanes of PCI Express, Gigabit Ethernet with a TCP/IP offload engine, a couple of ATA/133 channels, and four Serial ATA II ports with support for both Native and Tagged Command Queuing. Like the nForce4, the nForce Pro 2200 also supports multiple RAID 0, 1, 0+1, and JBOD arrays spanning both ATA and SATA drives.

Taken alone, the nForce Pro 2200 doesn't really offer anything above and beyond the nForce4 Ultra. However, the 2200 can team up with the nForce Pro 2050 to bolster an already impressive feature set. The 2050 adds an additional hardware-accelerated Gigabit Ethernet MAC, 20 more PCI Express lanes, and another four Serial ATA II RAID ports. The additional PCI Express lanes allow a 2200/2050 combo to provide a real sixteen lanes of PCI-E to each graphics card in an SLI configuration, and NVIDIA's RAID implementation is flexible enough to span arrays across drives connected to both the 2200 and 2050.

The nForce Pro 2050 is more of a companion chip than a traditional south bridge, and it doesn't actually hook directly into the 2200. Instead, the 2050 interfaces with an Opteron's non-coherent HyperTransport link, cutting out the middleman and eliminating a potential interconnect bottleneck between the 2200 and 2050. nForce Pro implementations aren't limited to a single 2050, either. The chipset actually supports up to three 2050s alongside one 2200, although only dual-Opteron systems will have enough spare HyperTransport links for such a configuration.

Comparing the specs
Although all three boards use the same nForce Pro 2200 chipset, each implementation is different, and only one doubles up with the 2050. Let's compare the spec sheets of the three boards to see what they have in common, and where they differ.

Asus K8N-DL Iwill DK8ES Tyan Thunder K8WE
Chipset nForce Pro 2200 nForce Pro 2200 nForce Pro 2200 with nForce Pro 2050
Expansion slots 1 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x1
2 32-bit/33MHz
1 PCI Express x16
1 PCI Express x16 (2 lanes)
3 64-bit/100MHz PCI-X via AMD 8131 PCI-X tunnel
2 PCI Express x16
1
32-bit/33MHz
1 64-bit/133MHz PCI-X via AMD 8131 PCI-X tunnel
2 64-bit/100MHz PCI-X
via AMD 8131 PCI-X tunnel
Memory 6 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 12GB of Registered DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
8 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 16GB of Registered DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
8 184-pin DIMM sockets
Maximum of 16GB of Registered DDR266/333/400 SDRAM
Storage I/O Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA II with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
4 channels Serial ATA with RAID 0, 1, 0+1, 5 support via Silicon Image 3114R
Floppy disk
2 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA II with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
Floppy disk
1 channels ATA/133
4 channels Serial ATA II with RAID 0, 1, 0+1 support
2 U320 68-pin SCSI connectors via LSI 53C1030
Audio 8-channel audio via nForce Pro 2200 and Realtek ALC850 codec N/A 2-channel audio via nForce Pro 2200 AD 1981B codec
Ports 1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 Serial
1 Parallel

4 USB 2.0 with headers for 6 more
1 Firewire via TI
TSB43AB22A with header for 1 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Broadcom 5751

1 analog front out
1 analog bass/center out
1 analog surround out
1 analog rear out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
2 digital S/PDIF output (RCA and TOS-Link)
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 VGA via ATI Rage XL
1 Serial
2 USB 2.0 with headers for 8 more
2 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via Broadcom 5721
1 PS/2 keyboard
1 PS/2 mouse
1 Serial
4 USB 2.0 with headers for 4 more
1 Firewire via TI TSB43AB22A with header for 1 more
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via nForce Pro 2200
1 RJ45 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet via nForce Pro 2050

1 analog front out
1 analog line in
1 analog mic in
Bus speeds HT: 200-400MHz in 1MHz increments
DRAM: 100, 133, 166, 200MHz
DRAM: 100, 133, 166, 200MHz DRAM: 100, 133, 166, 200MHz
Voltages CPU0, CPU1: default, +0.05V
DDR: 2.6-2.9V in 0.1V increments
Chipset: 1.5-1.8V in 0.1V increments
HT: 1.2-1.35V in 0.05V increments
None None
Fan speed control CPU, System None CPU, System*

Although all three boards support dual Opteron processors and make use of the nForce Pro 2200 chipset, there's more variation between the boards than one might expect. I'll be exploring each board's unique characteristics, quirks, and common traits over the course of the comparison.