NVIDIA announces nForce4 chipset

To go along with the Athlon 64 4000+ and FX-55 processors, NVIDIA today will officially announce its Athlon 64 chipset with PCI Express, the nForce4. The chipset obviously isn’t ready to go yet, since NVIDIA couldn’t get us even a reference board for testing, but they’ve decided to go ahead with the product launch today, perhaps in part because they are vying with the VIA K8T890, which we’ve already tested, and other competitors to be first to market with a PCI Express chipset for AMD processors.

Since the nForce4 will have to rely on the Athlon 64’s integrated memory controller, you shouldn’t expect any major real-world performance differences between this chipset and current ones. The big difference, of course, will be PCI Express support, including support for NVIDIA’s new SLI GPU teaming capability. Like the nForce3, this new chip “set” will be a single-chip core logic solution. The nForce4’s vitals include the following:

  • PCI Express support — The nForce4 will pack some number of lanes of PCI Express support, at least 18 judging by the board pictures NVIDIA has supplied us. However, the exact number isn’t clear from the product literature. Some nForce4 boards will be configured with two different PCI-E graphics slots for SLI support. These boards will have a unique riser card that will switch them from a single PCI Express X16 config into a dual PCI-E X8 setup to support two graphics cards simultaneously. The FUDMasters on the green team also say nForce4 will be the only “certified” SLI solution for the AMD platform, and claim the nForce4 is “specially optimized internally” for SLI.
  • 8 channels of AC’97 audio — As we reported months ago, NVIDIA is not resurrecting its SoundStorm audio solution in nForce4, and surprisingly enough, the nForce4 won’t even support Intel’s High Definition Audio standard, a.k.a. Azalia. Instead, the nForce4 will stick with AC’97 audio sans hardware acceleration.
  • GigE and an improved firewall — NVIDIA calls the nForce4’s firewall ActiveArmor. Unlike the nForce3, whose “hardware optimized firewall” existed solely in software, NVIDIA claims the nForce4 contains true hardware acceleration for packet inspection, lowering CPU overhead.
  • SATA II support — The nForce4 will support the latest incarnation of Serial ATA, with Native Command Queuing, hot-swappable devices, and transfer rates up to 300MB/s. NVIDIA says it will be first to market to SATA II.
  • RAID morphing — This feature will allow users to convert from one array type to another on the fly, without destroying data. Of course, this will be added to NVIDIA’s existing RAID capabilities. The nForce4 will not, however, include anything similar to Intel’s Matrix RAID capabilities, which allows RAID 1 and RAID 0 arrays to coexist simultaneously on a pair of drives.
  • nTune — NVIDIA’s system utility gets renamed for nForce4, and it will come with an autotune feature similar to the auto-overclocking feature in NVIDIA’s graphics drivers. NVIDIA keeps pushing board makers to support its chipset utility software. Perhaps nForce4 will have more success on that front than past attempts.
  • Three big and tasty flavors — The nForce 4 will come in three varieties, including the nForce4 SLI for, well, you know. The nForce4 Ultra will be the high-end-but-not-SLI option, and the vanilla nForce4 will have its wings clipped, with no SATA II transfer rates, no hardware acceleration of its firewall capabilities, and a HyperTransport link limited to 800MHz on Socket 754 motherboards. Notable by its absence is any form of nForce4 with integrated graphics. NVIDIA may be biding its time until it can incorporate a GeForce 6-class GPU into the nForce4, but in the meantime, it stands to lose high-volume corporate PC sales to the IGP-enabled competition.

And that’s about it. Other common I/O standards like ATA/133 and USB will be supported, of course, but the above are the major changes from nForce3. I’ll be curious to see whether NVIDIA can succeed in charging a premium for the hardware firewall acceleration and SATA II support in the nForce4 Ultra. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Taiwan, Inc. opt en masse for the vanilla nForce4 instead.

NVIDIA says the first wave of SLI boards should be coming from MSI, Asus, and Gigabyte. I’d love to give you a date for their arrival, but at this point, I think the best answer is “as soon as possible, pending any delays.” We’ll have to see whether NVIDIA can get this puppy to market before the competition.

Comments closed
    • knitecrow
    • 15 years ago

    For those of us still running the AthlonXP on a nforce2 system, the loss of soundstorm is a step down.

    You want useless features here is a list:

    SLI? I don’t have money to buy mid-high end card, why would i want two. Sure it has buzz, but nvidia is only trying to push its graphics card

    Hardware firewall. I have a firewall in winXP pro, i have norton internet security, my router at work has a firewall.

    RAID, disc span — i am still trying to fill my 200Gb harddrive with p0rn

    The only practical feature i’d would have used is soundstorm. Now its gone. I suspect soundstorm was the only feature that mattered to the average guy.

    I’ll be seriously looking at VIA

    There is a petition you can sign to bring back soundstorm:
    §[<http://www.petitiononline.com/NVAPU/petition.html<]§

    • Delphis
    • 15 years ago

    hardware firewall? … sounds cool, what about linux support? (for those of us that have a future Althon64 linux home file server/network gateway/firewall in mind) .. oh, you mean it’ll more than likely be like the nv ethernet driver saga all over again*. Ugh.

    I’m not a fan of nvidia closed source linux drivers – which then become unmaintained. I guess for those with a single windows box it’ll be alright.

    It’ll be KT800Pro for me more than likely.

    * the saga was that the nv ethernet driver was not maintained and then it had to be reverse engineered (became the ‘forcedeth’ project).

    • MaceMan
    • 15 years ago

    Lets get to the bones of this; how are the drivers for nVidia’s motherboards these days? Ever since Diamond made video cards, it has been a neon flashing lesson in my brain that the hottest looking hardware does NOT make for a happy hardware enthusiast. Crappy drivers can kill the joy.

    Are nVidia’s motherboard drivers up to snuff these days?

    (I tried VIA’s 4-in-1 drivers a couple years ago and just hated the experience, so I’ve avoided VIA ever since. In fact, I consider Intel’s chipset drivers once of the strongest arguments for Intel-based computers right now.)

      • d0g_p00p
      • 15 years ago

      They are fine to me. I have used the nVidia drivers all though my NF1, 2 and now my NF250 without any issues. there was a problem with the NF2 IDE driver but I never used those so I was never affected by it. I must say that my NF3 250/A64 setup has been the mose stable setup I have used since the BX/P3 days.

    • RoninGyrbill
    • 15 years ago

    This is for socket 940 too, right? I’d really like to know what sort of boost (if any) this will give Opteron performance v. the almost 2 year old AMD 8xxx series.

    • The Wizard
    • 15 years ago

    Will Tyan have an nForce4 board?
    If so, when?

    • damien
    • 15 years ago

    To all the people hoping SStorm is coming back in some way, shape, or form I hate to burst your bubble.

    PC Perspective put it in black and white for everyone to hear. The audio group is disbanded. I was there and heard it myself as well.

    §[<http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=81&type=expert&pid=6<]§ (The) SoundStorm team has been killed at NVIDIA -- no more development is going to happen in the near future. NVIDIA said that simply not enough motherboard manufacturers were putting it on their boards and utilizing the technology that was so expensive to continue to develop.

      • Krogoth
      • 15 years ago

      As for the anti-Creative crowd you can still use Envy24 based sound cards. Which sounds pretty darn good and hardware acceleration is increasing becoming a moot point.

      Unless you are a hardcore FPS junkie that wants the most FPS out of your hardware. In that case you probably don’t care about giving $$$$$ to Creative and only care about what hardware provides the most FPS for the desired budget.

    • Nuclear
    • 15 years ago

    the current supermicro for dual nocona has a x16 and a x4 for sli video cards

    physically, both have the x16 slot but the second one only has 4 lanes since the chipset only has 20 lines total

    • MaceMan
    • 15 years ago

    Well, since I’m an addict to the Shuttle SFF systems, and I just can’t see an SLI system in that kind of form factor, I guess plain vanilla PCI-E for AMD CPUs is what I’m cheering for… which means I’m probably looking at the plain vanilla version?!?

    And since I want the latest EAX support for gaming, I’ll probably have to buy a soundcard to go with it? Please, please, someone, don’t make me tithe to Creative Labs again. I’m begging you. Give me any reasonable alternative…

    (Review idea: Hot Gaming Rig in the SFF… which would include a ‘thin’ video card and a [grumble] sound card pairing).

    • kvndoom
    • 15 years ago

    This offers me nothing compelling to consider an upgrade from my NF3 250 board. My Folding boxes go through a router, and I use Sygate on my main rig, so I have no need for the firewall (which my board does have). I still haven’t seen a PCI-Express video card under $200 that would make me want to ditch my 9700 Pro. I doubt it really offers anything to make current Nforce 3 owners ditch their boards.

    An AC97, for crying out loud?!? Does Nvidia not notice the “97” in AC97? Get with the times already! Hell, will this still be around in 20 years like the sloppy drive, I wonder…

      • sativa
      • 15 years ago

      what audio does your nf3 have

        • kvndoom
        • 15 years ago

        Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS. 🙂

        the board of course has some AC97 incarnation, but I couldn’t tell you which, because that crap was disabled on first boot, along with the parallel port, serial ports, and any other junk I personally won’t ever use.

    • swaaye
    • 15 years ago

    This is just NV shooting for maximum volume, minimum cost. NF3/4 looks like it targets a whole different market segment than the old NF2. They aren’t targetting us, they are targetting OEMs…..though the folks at NV must be retarded not to notice that Dell sells mostly systems using integrated video….so, uhh, they seriously missed the target. Hell even I, super-enthusiast, built a NF2 IGP board for a friend’s mother! It’s all most people need!

    Maybe it’s just totally mis-targetted and no one will buy it! 🙂 Hell if I see a reason to buy it. My NF2 system still runs everything and will for the forseeable future. Video card performance matters a lot more for these pixel shaded games coming up.

    Actually, considering that Athlon64 boards rarely vary much in CPU performance because they can’t f-up the memory controller anymore, you’d think these chipset makers would be all about snazzy features. This thing has a firewall that most users will ignore or just use XPsp2’s, SATA II support when there are few people even using SATA I, RAID morphing right after we’ve all seen that RAID 0 makes everything but video editing slower (you see mom and pop using RAID 1, I don’t think so), nTune (a feature that has never been supported worth anything), and ultra-cheap AC97 scheisse audio…..WOW!

      • atidriverssuck
      • 15 years ago

      y[

        • Convert
        • 15 years ago

        “Dell” and any OEM.

      • indeego
      • 15 years ago

      q[<"RAID morphing right after we've all seen that RAID 0 makes everything but video editing slower"<]q What you sayg{

        • kvndoom
        • 15 years ago

        somebody set up us the bomb!

    • Captain AMD
    • 15 years ago

    Why no integrated video with these? I guess selling vanilla 5200’s are more profitable.

    • UberGerbil
    • 15 years ago

    You know, a two-socket mobo sporting SATA II, on-the-fly RAID reconfiguring, and (maybe) the hardware firewall might be really interesting for server vendors… except, no integrated video. Ooops.

    • Krogoth
    • 15 years ago

    Most ethuasist still fail to face the fact that Soundstorm 1 was highly overrated for the most part. Only a tiny percentage of the computer audio market had the digital speakers and outputs necessary to take full advanage of the Soundstorm’s Dolby Digital decoder. Overwise, you were stuck with the far inferior Realtek or AC97 analog codec.

    The reason why KT600 flopped was that it came into the AXP game far too late not so much for Nforce2’s Soundstorm but, for the Nforce2’s other features. The Nforce 2 had already penerated the whole ethuisast segment of the AXP market.

      • Convert
      • 15 years ago

      That’s what I am trying to say, popularity through features. Even the kt400 is rare. I was merely using soundstorm as one example, not as the only reason.

      The nf2 brought things like dual channel to the table as well so that was a nice boost. This time around they just have their firewall apparently since Via claimed to be working on SLI. Everyone I know with broadband has a hardware firewall. So the real big difference here is going to be options. Soundstorm could have been a start.

      Again its not like I care about soundstorm specifically. It’s just with these mobos popularity and features go hand in hand, why cut off those features? If they really want to cater to stingy oems then they really need to cut a lot more off.

    • indeego
    • 15 years ago

    q[

    • crose
    • 15 years ago

    q[

      • indeego
      • 15 years ago

      Probably the latter, with revenues in the billions only commies can suck up to Anandtech’s camera review siteg{<.<}g

        • crose
        • 15 years ago

        Yeah, Boi Wonder is a communist to you know? I read some where that he drives a red Ferrari and red as we all know is the colour of communism, Hitler and the up-to-no-good car builders in Modena, Italy.

    • Damage
    • 15 years ago

    This article has been edited a couple of times to reflect NVIDIA’s multiple clarifications on HyperTransport speeds. I believe we have all the right info now, unless we don’t.

    • spworley
    • 15 years ago

    #2, Nobody likes the missing Soundstorm.
    But the reason it’s missing is simply $.. the Dolby license costs too much. Users/OEMs really really don’t want to pay an extra $5 (or more?) for the Dolby license. You and I scream “Sure! $5 is nothing! I’ll pay! I’ll pay!” but we’re exceptions.. the vast majority of box builders are under fierce competition and those Dolby $’s come out of their profit. Now I said $5 for the license, but that’s my guess. What if it’s $20?

      • Entz
      • 15 years ago

      Why not come out with 2 versions of the chipset then?

      Personally I could care less about SLI or the built in Firewall but would sell my soul for a Soundstorm2/Azalia sound solution…

      I have the equipment for DD and found the quality of Soundstorm in DD to be leagues above the Audigy. One of the major reasons I havent switched from AthlonXP to Athlon64 (Well that an my mobile does 2.6GHZ on air :P)

      It is going to hurt them sooner or later. How many people (including OEMS) would buy an Audigy2 if SS2 had a proper built in DAC and similar features for 5$ more?

      Perhaps they are planning a seperate SS2 chip? Something that other manufacturers could add in or sell as a PCI-e add in card.

        • jss21382
        • 15 years ago

        Cost of developing it vs what they’ll get out of it

      • albundy
      • 15 years ago

      eh, probably would not of used most of it anyway since an optical passthrough would of gotten me all the channels I could wish for on my home theatre.

    • Convert
    • 15 years ago

    Isn’t even out yet and I am half disappointed. The HT link speeds usually don’t matter but still… Before I get into the rest; having certain key features brings in the enthusiasts. In return there are more sales, and usually a popular chipset gets many different boards being made. The nf2 is in most of the enthusiasts xp systems. Where’s the kt600? Exactly. Popularity counts.

    One of those key features was soundstorm. I own a audigy 2 so I wont bat a eye, it still hurts its popularity though. Integrated video was a Huge mistake. Not a lot of us (hopefully) will use it but it has its purpose, especially for oems. Even if it was the geforce mx series again it would still be popular.

    So they cut the soundstorm to please oems except they cut the integrated video? Nvidia really knows how to trip over its own feet I swear. Nf1 = miss, nf2 = hit, nf3 150 = miss, nf3 250 = hit, nf4 first incarnation = miss. Have to admit though, they sure are consistent.

    So the only thing I am excited about is the sli part. If Via ends up pulling off sli then sorry nvidia.

      • Ardrid
      • 15 years ago

      I don’t see how this will be a miss unless something goes wrong. The nF1 and nF3 were the initial offerings for the K7 and K8. The nF4 is an evolution of the nF3. Or, in other words, it’s the nF2 of the nF3. If you want to get technical, it should be:

      nF1 = Miss
      nF2 = Hit
      nF3 = Miss (despite the fact that there were two iterations)
      nF4 = Hit

    • Spotpuff
    • 15 years ago

    SLI will most likely not be affordable enough for an end user (or practical, given the power consumption) to be considered.

    That and the lack of Soundstorm and Azalia 🙁

    Go go Via? Go go ATI. Competition is good.

    • Proesterchen
    • 15 years ago

    It seems like nForce 4 is a bugged implementation of questionable features – AC97 in 2004, SATA II that noone needs and a slow HT interface. Hats off!

    And gosh, their SLI “solution” seems like an ugly hack – Multiple PCI Express connectores with a riser card? How’s that supposed to work in the confined space of an ATX tower?

    So, lets see what the other companies can do.

      • Ardrid
      • 15 years ago

      I don’t think there’s any other way to do SLI. I haven’t seen anyone support more than 20 lanes and the only way to meet that requirement with SLI is to have 2 x8 links. However, you still need a way for those links to negotiate back to x16 should someone only be using one card. There might be a way to do that without a riser since PCIe is supposed to auto-negotiate, but I’m thinking NVIDIA would’ve looked long and hard into that issue.

        • UberGerbil
        • 15 years ago

        No, they could just have two x8 slots. PCI-E is downwards-compatible, so x16 cards would work in them. And they don’t even use x8 bandwidth, let alone x16, so it wouldn’t be a big deal. I think the issue may have more to do with push-back from the mobo mfrs regarding board layers.

          • just brew it!
          • 15 years ago

          Are you sure about that? IIRC faster (wider) slots are indeed backward compatible with slower peripherals, but I was under the impression that the reverse is not true?

            • UberGerbil
            • 15 years ago

            Yes and no. Technically, you’re right — slower cards can go into faster slots and just run at slower rates, but not the reverse. Except they’ve already enshrined a specific exception to that in the spec: an x8 card may be placed in an x4 slot — if the slot has an x8 connector but only has x4 lanes. Presumably nVidia could do the same thing at the x16 level. But maybe doing a riser socket was easier than pushing an exception through the PCI Express committee.

            I can’t link the spec, but I can point you to the table at the bottom of this page: §[<http://thetechzone.com/computers.php?i=308&p=6<]§

          • Ardrid
          • 15 years ago

          You wouldn’t be able to have two x8 slots because an x16 card won’t work in an x8 slot. It works in reverse (an x8 card can work in an x16 slot). What you’re probably getting at is what I was pretty much referring to, the link itself with be x8 (meaning 8 lanes are used), however the cards and the slot will both be x16 to maintain consistency.

          Like I said, I don’t think there’s any way to get around the arbiter because the nF4 is limited to 20 lanes, so you can’t have two x16 links. You’d have to have two x8 links and then four x1 links for whatever else you wanted. That would require the ability to switch btw an x8 and an x16 link on the fly. You are right that the x8 bandwidth shouldn’t make a difference.

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