Graphics chipset specialist nVidia today broke out from its market niche by launching an integrated PC chipset, the nForce.
This new 'Platform Processing Architecture', jointly developed by nVidia and AMD and formerly codenamed Crush, aims to bring high-quality, high-performance graphics and audio to the integrated chipset, allowing motherboard manufacturers and system vendors to deliver hitherto unprecedented levels of functionality in mid- to low-priced PCs. Currently, the nForce only supports AMD's Athlon and Duron processors.
Dispensing with the standard Northbridge (system controller) and Southbridge (peripheral controller) architecture, the nForce consists of two chips: the Integrated Graphics Processor (IGP) and the Media & Communications Processor (MCP), linked by AMD's fast HyperTransport bus (formerly codenamed Lightning Data Transport or LDT).
The IGP comprises the GeForce2 graphics processing unit, a TwinBank 128-bit (twin 64-bit) memory architecture and a Dynamic Adaptive Speculative Pre-processor (DASP) that together deliver excellent 2D and 3D graphics acceleration, wide memory bandwidth and efficient CPU utilisation.
The MCP comprises a Direct 8.0-compatible audio processing unit -- also used in Microsoft's forthcoming Xbox -- whose standout feature is a Dolby Digital Interactive Content Encoder that encodes multi-channel audio into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround-sound in real time. Another MCP component is StreamThru, which provides guaranteed bandwidth for networking and broadband applications -- support is provided for Ethernet, home phoneline (HomePNA 2.0), USB 1.1 and dial-up connectivity. If you want IEEE 1394 or USB 2.0 connectivity in an nForce-based system, you'll need to purchase an add-on card, though.
According to nVidia's marketing vice-president Dan Vivoli, the nForce chipset delivers "the best 3D graphics of 18 months ago", along with top-notch 3D audio. The IGP supports 4X AGP internally and externally, allowing users to upgrade with a more powerful graphics card if necessary -- nVidia also expects its latest GeForce3 graphics processing unit to filter down into the IGP in due course.
Some impressive numbers were bandied about at the UK launch, notably the 10--30 per cent performance boost delivered by the Media Control Processor's DASP over Athlon or Duron systems running conventional chipsets.
So far, the only nForce-based PC to be announced is from Fujitsu-Siemens, but nVidia claims that 23 other system builders are committed to the chipset. Motherboard manufacturers signed up include ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Mitac and Abit.
No pricing information on the chipset, which comes in two graphics versions (with 64-bit and 128-bit memory channels) and three audio versions, was available at the launch.
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