NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400Gb MCP PreviewFormer staff writer - February 26, 2004
Today we're going to take a look at NVIDIA's latest nForce2 chipset, the Ultra 400Gb MCP. The nForce2 Ultra 400Gb MCP™ incorporates many new features from their new nForce3 250 chipset like GigE, native SATA, RAID features, and NVIDIA's hardware based firewall, NVMixer, and the NVIDIA System Utility. Jason Camp and I had a live demonstration of these new features at a meeting that we had with NVIDIA last week. They demonstrated to us the software side of NVIDIA's new hardware based firewall. The firewall will allow you to block/allow inbound and outbound traffic based upon dozens of rules and statements at blazing speeds with no impact on performance. They've made it very easy to manage, via a web browser so that anyone can run the firewall without having any previous firewall knowledge.
The nForce2 Ultra 400GB is for users who are seeking the new features found on the nForce 3 250GB, but do not yet want to upgrade to a 64bit CPU. NVIDIA knows that it would be more cost effective for you to upgrade your mainboard rather than a mainboard and a CPU too. We're going to take an in-depth look at this new nForce2 to see if all of the new features is worth the upgrade or not and to see if all of the new features have slowed the performance any.
One of the most disappointing thing about the nForce 2 Ultra 400Gb is NVIDIA’s abandonment of the SoundStorm APU (Audio Processing Unit) that helped to make the nForce2 so popular amongst audiophiles and gamers alike. With AC-3 Dolby digital encoding and SPDIF, SoundStorm really set the standards high for an APU. While most manufacturers use the same AC97 sound, the SoundStorm APU added more flexibility and Dolby digital encoding. The sound output is still determined by the codec, but the flexibility and Dolby encoding with SPDIF interface will surely be missed by me in future NVIDIA products. As it stands right now, there are no plans for any NVIDIA based boards (I.E NF3 250 GB) that will be offering the SoundStorm APU. Maybe someday NVIDIA will reintroduce an APU similar to SoundStorm and bring back the features of the SoundStorm APU to the people. Sadly our reference board had audio issues, but this board is a early reference design and retail boards will hopefully be problem free.
Native Serial ATA
This time around NVIDIA built native serial ATA into the nForce2 MCP-Gb Southbridge and they also added a few more features to the Southbridge that we will talk about later. The added native SATA support is a great feature as it gives vendors the ability to use an add-in chip to increase the number of SATA connections. This will come in handy when SATA optical drives hit the market later this year. The ability to add more SATA connections will also make this a very attractive server board if vendors do decide to use add in chips.
One of the new features offered on the nForce2 Ultra 400GB is a cross raid controller. This means you are no longer required to go out and buy all Serial ATA drives to run a RAID array on an nForce2 chipset. You may now mix and match the drives to make a RAID array. This can make for a very cost effective upgrade if you want to use a RAID array with existing IDE drives. Only a few existing nForce2 Ultra 400 boards offer IDE RAID, but none offer the cross controller.
The NVIDIA RAID will also allow you to boot from a RAID drive to load your operating system. For example, if you're running (2) 10,000 RPM SATA Raptors in RAID 1 you could load your operating system on this drive and boot from it to take advantage of the extra performance that RAID 1 provides.
NVIDIA’s RAID solution offers "On-the-fly Rebuilds". If you're running RAID 1 and a disk fails, you can rebuild a new mirrored copy of the failed, corrupted, or missing data while the system is still up and running.
NVIDIA Firewall/Gigabit LAN
Saving the best feature for last is the built-in Gigabyte Ethernet and integrated hardware firewall. Offering file transfer speeds up to ten times faster than 100mbps Ethernet, Gigabit LAN is finally becoming more affordable for home users to take advantage of. Multiple computer households will benefit from the high data transfer speeds offering real time streaming video among many other things. Later on we will talk more about the firewall and what could possibly make the nForce2 ULTRA400-Gb one of the most feature rich Socket-A chipset to date.