This time last year marked my introduction to personal computing on the AMD platform as I assembled a system based on NVIDIA's nForce. The system was powered by AMD's Athlon XP 1800+ processor, which is a 0.18 micron fabricated part designed under the code name Palomino. Having been a long time user of Intel processors, I was concerned that an AMD solution wouldn't be able to match the performance and stability I had become accustomed to. However, over time, my concern eventually led to a feeling of confidence.
Another major upgrade that took place during this time was moving to the Windows XP operating system. While it's difficult to pinpoint which of these changes had the greatest impact during this reincarnation, I've been delighted working with the nForce/AMD platform. A year has passed us by and today I'll be reporting on two new and exciting products - NVIDIA's nForce2 Performance Motherboard and AMD's Athlon XP 2700+ processor.
In a new and interesting twist on product terminology, NVIDIA has coined the phrase "Graphics Motherboard" in an attempt to distinguish the graphics performance of the nForce2 from competing motherboards that contain built-in graphics capabilities. The graphics-less nForce2 is being referred to as a "Performance Motherboard." As I learned in a phone conversation with NVIDIA, the nForce2 launch was slightly delayed as they waited for AMD to supply review samples of the Athlon XP 2700+ and 2800+ processors, both of which are also being announced today.
Manufactured at AMD's Fab 30 wafer fabrication facility in Dresden, Germany, the Athlon XP 2700+ and 2800+ processors are based on revision B of the Thoroughbred core and were improved to operate at a 333MHz front side bus (FSB) frequency. A 333MHz FSB provides a 25% increase in processor bandwidth over the 266MHz FSB on prior Athlon XP processors. AMD processors based on the Thoroughbred core debuted in June with the Athlon XP 2200+ and are fabricated using a 0.13 micron process technology.
The architecture of the Thouroughbred is similar to the Palomino, but the process improvement provided AMD with key benefits that include manufacturing economies of scale. Benefits include manufacturing a greater number of processors at a lower average cost, decreased power consumption, less heat, and the ability to quickly increase processor clock speeds.
As our discussion continued, it became evident that by aligning themselves with AMD, NVIDIA has committed to make the nForce2 the fastest performing and most feature rich motherboard solution on the market. The performance of the nForce2 is at its best when running in synchronous mode whereby the FSB and memory are both operating at the same 333MHz frequency. Further collaboration with AMD indicates that NVIDIA's AGP 8X graphics cards, as well as the next generation NV30, will run optimally on the nForce2 platform.
This article will also mark a brief introduction to a few GeForce4 based graphics cards from Gainward. Thanks to the generosity of Gainward, we will be putting the cards up for sale at reduced prices. Along with 512MB of PC3200 memory and WindowsXP, these components form the foundation of a formidable gaming system, which is the primary focus behind this article.
Due to time constraints, I chose to emphasize performance measurement using synthetic benchmark products along with game and gameplay benchmarks. The synthetic benchmarks I selected were based on their availability, reporting features, and comparison features. A major issue I had to overcome was the availability of systems to test with. I have two systems that are used by our family one of which is an older 1.0GHz Pentium 3. The second system is based on the nForce and Athlon XP 1800+ processor and was my daily work system that I also used for graphics card reviews.
Swapping out a graphics card is a trivial change compared to swapping out a motherboard and I wanted to show performance comparisons against the nForce. Before receiving the nForce2 review kiy, I ran a few benchmarks on the fully loaded nForce system as reinstalling Windows XP from scratch would have put me further behind. I will also be making references to other reviews I've written that contain benchmark results from the nForce. However, the nForce2 was tested with a fresh install of Windows XP and Service Pack 1 along with a new ATA-133 hard drive, which I purchased prior to assembling the nForce2 system.
nForce2 System Configuration
AMD Athlon XP 2700+ @ 2.17GHz - Thouroughbred Revision B *
ASUS A7NX8 Preproduction nForce2 Motherboard *
NVIDIA nForce2 chipset with DualDDR Memory design *