IntroductionEPoX 8KDA3+ nForce3 250Gb
AMD's consumer-level 32- and 64-bit CPUs made a promising debut at the back end of '03. At that time, the FX-51 was, arguably, the fastest x86 processor going. Enthusiasts, however, opted for the slightly slower single-channel S754 Model 3200+. It approached the performance levels of the rebadged Opteron FX-51 but did so at half the price. Nothing much has changed in the last 6 months or so. The FX-51 is now replaced by the FX-53 (can you guess it's faster) and S754 lineup has been bolstered with both faster and slower models. Currently, you've got a choice of S940 or S754. Only the deep of pocket go for the former.
Processors, albeit impressive ones, are only one part of the performance equation. A change in socket format has a knock-on effect of requiring a raft of new motherboards. VIA and NVIDIA, with the K8T800 and nForce3 (Pro) 150, both introduced stable boards. With particular reference to S754, VIA's K8T800 just shaded it; performance was near-identical to NVIDIA's and the feature count was more impressive. Yet most commentators, including ourselves, felt that neither chipset gave the consumer everything they should. For one, enthusiasts were left out in the cold with no explicit AGP/PCI locking. That's precisely why both firms are releasing revised chipsets that ratchet up the feature count and cater for the overclocker.
NVIDIA's first out of the blocks with the nForce3 250Gb chipset. Ryszard took a detailed look in his chipset perusal here. Taking the most salient points mentioned, the nForce3 250Gb eclipses its predecessor by offering native SATA support, Gigabit Ethernet (still needs a PHY, though), a novel in-built hardware firewall, faster HyperTransport link, and adding the all-important AGP/PCI bus lock. There's enough new native support to warrant a chipset revision. There's still things we'd like to have seen added, the nForce2's excellent APU and FireWire support, for example.
Reference boards are useful for evaluating a chipset, but retail examples will decide the fate of NVIDIA's nForce3 250Gb. EPoX has trumpeted its 8KDA3+ recently, a new motherboard based on the '250Gb. Let's take a closer look.