I saved one of the best features of the nForce2 for last and came close to not meeting the deadline for publishing this article because of it. While I recently purchased Logitech's Z-560 4.1 speaker system (I dig the subwoofer), the nForce2 audio capabilities make me yearn for a set of digital speakers. A 6.1 digital speaker setup would do nicely here.
NVIDIA's audio driver development team has done a bang-up job and is to be commended. Rather than explaining the various audio control panels, I've provided you with a series of screenshots showing each major control panel. Of course you'll probably want to being with the speaker setup wizard. I can finally retire my Sound Blaster...
With multiple users on this PC, I definitely see a need to allow audio settings to be managed per user. It takes a bit of tweaking to get the "perfect" sound.
There were a host of features that I didn't have time to test including USB 2.0 and integrated Ethernet. For the time being I've continued to use a Linksys Ethernet adapter. While all game benchmarks ran without incident, I will follow-up with comments and performance tests on local and on-line gameplay using a few game titles I own along with a handful of recently released demos. I had intended on measuring performance in a workstation application, but version 7.0 of the Specviewperf benchmark failed to run as it caused the system to lock repeatedly during the first test.
The only remaining problem I've experienced at this stage is that Windows XP occasionally reports a hardware failure. It's happened twice over the past week thus far - once when attempting to launch Sandra and a second time while changing skins in Windows Media player. When the failure occurs, Windows XP will stall for about 15-20 seconds and issue a message that a hardware failure was detected and instructions to reboot the system. At this time, the desktop reverts to a resolution of 640x480 in 4-bit color, but it's not a permanent setting since a subsequent re-boot of Windows XP loads the desktop normally. I don't know what's causing this error, but haven't conducted any detailed investigation into the incidents.
With preproduction hardware and drivers, I've been pleased with the stability and the performance of the system. Barring any unforeseen issues, I'm hoping to use it as the primary testing machine for future graphics card reviews. Based on the information I've provided, you should have an idea of what the nForce2 brings to the table, but I'll update this section of the article with links to nForce2 reviews from other web sites.
As for AMD, the latest surveys have them with a 20% share of the desktop processor market. I'm certainly not anti-Intel, as they manufacture excellent processors as well. But AMD has earned my respect and the benchmark results in this article speak for themselves. If you still have doubts, then I urge you to check out the links above for performance comparisons against the Pentium 4. However, one dilemma that AMD faces is one of brand recognition by the general public. I watched an advertisement for the Pentium 4 on CNN just yesterday. When was the last time you saw a commercial for the Athlon on a major television network? Just some food for thought.