I don't know about any other online hardware reviewer, but before a new article this one likes to have a good think about whatever it is he's reviewing to get a good 'angle' on things and hopefully spit out a decent read after all the Homesite abuse has stopped.
During this complex thought process (sitting down in front of the TV with a barrel of coffee) it occurred to me that the current generation Athlon XP platform (processors and motherboards mainly) is entering the golden stage of its career. You know what I'm talking about, that period in the life of a platform where it becomes hard to buy a bad motherboard for that platform since chipsets are mature and fine tuned. That period when yields on the processors are so good that the lower end models are remarked versions of the high clocking cores. Combined with a number of other factors including a mature DDR DRAM market with an availability of good modules, putting together a good Athlon XP box is easier than ever and performance has never been better.
NVIDIA deserve a lot of the plaudits for this state of affairs. Ever since the initial release of the nForce chipset, the platform has been in ascendancy. nForce2 has only improved on things and recently they've been there as the behind the scenes base of AMD's new 200MHz front side bus processors.
It's this new, end-of-life, example of the nForce2 chipset that I'm looking at today, more specifically in the form of ASUS' A7N8X Deluxe 2.0. Codenamed nForce2 Ultra 400 it adds explicit, default chipset voltage, 200MHz running and...precious little else. Merely an official 200MHz version of the original nForce2, it's the latest stepping of the northbridge (the southbridge MCP2 and MCP2-T are unchanged) we've come to know and love.
So before I move on to ASUS' explicit implementation, lets have a quick recap of the features the chipset brings to the table.
Northbridge - nForce2 SPP
There's an integrated graphics version but I'll ignore the fact that exists for the purposes of this review. We've covered IGP versions of nForce2 at Hexus before with motherboards like the EPoX EP-8RGA.
The SPP bridge gives us the following.
• 266/333/400MHz front side bus support for all Athlon XP processors
• 266/333/400MHz dual channel DDR memory support
• AGP 3.0 support (AGP8X with side band addressing and fast writes)
• DASP technology
• HyperTransport link to MCP bridge
Without going into too much detail (you can find a comprehensive look at nForce2 as a platform here), here's what that gives you in terms of numbers.
Up to 3.2GB/sec CPU I/O bandwidth from the processor to the SPP. This is the biggest change from the older SPP-333 bridge and comes about from the official support for 200MHz front side bus frequency (400MHz effective DDR bus frequency, 8-byte bus width).
Up to 6.4GB/sec memory bandwidth available to the SPP. TwinBank running gives us 2 64-bit memory controllers at 200MHz frequency so doing the math we get 2 x 8-byte x 400MHz effective DDR frequency for the 6.4GB/sec figure.
AGP 8X support means just over 2GB/sec bandwidth from the AGP controller to the processor and memory controllers, no change there.
The HyperTransport link remains constant at 800MB/sec using its skinny 8-bit high speed bus. The bus link is also isynchronous meaning devices on either end are free to use the bus at will and the bus can guarantee bandwidth. This underpins NVIDIA's StreamThru technology that implements high speed communication between the CPU and memory controllers and devices on the MCP bridge.
DASP is also unchanged and aims to feed the processor with as much relevant data as possible to keep the front end of the pipeline busy and the CPU working to its full potential.
Got that? On to the south bridge.
Southbridge - nForce2 MCP-T
The ASUS A7N8X Deluxe 2.0 ships with the MCP-T version of the southbridge which, like its northbridge brethren, comes in more than one discrete version. The -T version ships with the Dolby hardware we've come to know and love, the second Ethernet MAC and the FireWire controller. All that comes on top of the non-T specifications such as the full 6 channel hardware assisted audio, USB2.0 controller, PCI controller and the peripheral I/O hardware. NVIDIA didn't take the oppurtunity to equip the bridge with fancies such as FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet or SerialATA to align it with current technologies. I guess that good stuff comes with nForce3.
So given the above specifications which make it the most powerful, integrated and highest performing Athlon XP chipset on the market, what have ASUS done with it?