Nvidia nForce 500 Socket AM2 chipset series
A new AMD Socket, a new Nvidia chipset...
Preview Earlier today, AMD launched a range of new processors based on its Socket AM2 processor interconnect . Nvidia has launched a range of new chipsets to go with AMD's Socket AM2 CPUs and it's an impressive line-up. So far there has been no news about any new chipsets from ATI, although the RD580 chipset is already prepared for the AM2 platform...
Nvidia announced four new chipsets: the nForce 590 SLI, the 570 SLI, the 570 and the 550. This is a similar line-up to the nForce4 series. The 590 SLI is the only part that offers two full x16 slots and it's a two-chip solution, the second chip adding the extra 16 lanes for one of the two graphics cards, as with the nForce4 SLI x16.
But there has been quite a few tweaks made, to bring Nvidia's latest range of chipsets right up to scratch. Common features includes, at long last, HD audio support, a ten-port USB capability, five PCI slots, four x1 PCI Express lanes, Gigabit Ethernet, SATA RAID - the nForce 550 loses out as it doesn't support RAID 5 and can handle only four SATA drives instead of six - and finally one IDE connector for up to two drives.
All of nForce 500s except the 550 provide two Gigabit Ethernet ports and support what Nvidia calls "teaming". This allows you to bond the two together in hardware. There are two options: full speed or failover. With full-speed teaming you get up to 2Gbps as long as your network can support it, although this is over two cables. Failover is common on servers: you have both Ethernet adaptors connected and one will take over if the other fails. It's another box Nvidia can tick, but it's not really that useful on a desktop computer.
More important is what Nvidia calls FirstPacket, a quality of service (QoS) technology. The Ethernet controller can prioritise, say, VoIP calls or games over downloads, for example. This means that the quality of a Skype call won't deteriorate or that the ping in your game won't drop as much as it might do otherwise. Finally, there's built in hardware TCP/IP acceleration which offloads the CPU from some basic but processor intensive packet handling tasks.
But the most interesting technologies are found in the nForce 590 chipset, and Nvidia has dubbed them LinkBoost and SLI Memory. LinkBoost is based on the idea that since Nvidia makes both chipsets and graphics cards, it has full control of the hardware. So if you use Nvidia graphics cards in an nForce 590 board you'll get an extra performance boost of up to 25 per cent, the company claims. This is simply done by overclocking the PCI Express and HyperTransport bus, but to a predetermined limit.
SLI Memory, which is known as Enhanced Performance Profiles (EPP) to the memory manufacturers, does the same thing as LinkBoost, this time for memory clocking. If you use EPP memory with an nForce 590 board the DIMMs will be automatically overclocked to a preset in the SPD, a small controller which is fitted to all DDR and DDR 2 memory modules. However, you do have to enable this manually, in the BIOS. There are different ways to set the EPP up and this is determined by the memory manufacturer.
Finally, the nForce 590 chipset features something called Max Overclocking, essentially a heap of tweakable BIOS settings, although this is down to the board manufacturers to incorporate. The good news for the enthusiast market is that Foxconn, for one, has followed the Nvidia reference design and should have a very tweakable motherboard available shortly.
I only had access to the Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe and sadly none of the EPP memory modules. The test results can be found in the AMD AM2 Athlon 64 FX-62 review  as that processor was used with the Asus board. They're reproduced on the next few pages for your convenience.
Unfortunately, Nvidia wasn't able to supply two cards for SLI testing, but rest assured that we'll be taking a closer look at the new Nvidia chipsets with accompanying technology as soon as it's more widely available.
For now, the good news is that the platform seems to be stable and that there should be a wide range of boards available from the usual motherboard manufacturers. Pricing is of course an issue, but that is also down to the individual board makers. Overall, Nvidia has done an impressive job with its latest generation of chipsets and have added just about every feature you could possibly want, although once again you need to buy the most expensive model to get all of the features. ®
SiSoft Sandra 2007