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NVIDIA nForce2 400 and Ultra 400

NVIDIA is unveiling two new products in its nForce family — the NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 and NVIDIA nForce2 400 platform processors. So what’s new with these offerings? They are optimized and validated for the new AMD Athlon XP 3200+ processors with advanced 400MHz FSB technology.

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The original nForce2 platform processors support DDR400, but without 400MHz frontside bus support, something was left to be desired. As you all know, nForce systems run best in sync mode, so there’s little point in having one 400 without the other (unless of course you are overclocking and you’re not worried about what is “officially” supported). Well, NVIDIA is eliminating that problem with today’s announcement about the nForce2 supporting 400MHz FSB by unveiling two new members in its nForce family — the NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 and NVIDIA nForce2 400 platform processors.

A quick look at the documentation on these new platform processors reveals one of NVIDIA’s main goals with this launch — to capture more of the enthusiast market with the Ultra 400. The other goal seems to be to solidify a position in the mainstream market with boards that will completely support the new 400MHz FSB Athlons when they hit shelves. Read on for more details about each platform.

Shot of the nForce2 Ultra 400
nForce2 Ultra 400

Features of the nForce2 Ultra 400 / nForce2 400


Well, as you probably guessed, there aren’t a ton of new things to announce here. The most important thing to note is the 400MHz FSB support of course, not too dramatic but important nevertheless. According to NVIDIA, “Both NVIDIA nForce2 Ultra 400 and NVIDIA nForce2 400 platform processors optimized and validated for the new AMD Athlon(tm) XP 3200+ processor with advanced 400MHz frontside bus technology (FSB).” Let’s take a look at what NVIDIA is putting on the table.

nForce2 Ultra 400

Of course, we have dual channel DDR400 support. Who doesn’t love their DCDDR, especially at that speed! You can see also that this platform offers a 128-bit memory interface and is marketed at enthusiasts / overclockers — “Extreme headroom for enthusiasts.” NVIDIA definitely has some plans to feed the overclockers what they want! Gotta give them kudos for that. NVIDIA is without a doubt poised to strengthen their lead in performance with the Ultra 400. I’m looking forward to seeing these boards in action!

nForce2 400 Platform

We see something a little different with the plain 400 system. The 400MHz FSB is certainly still there, but gone is the dualDDR, replaced by single channel DDR400. Plus, it is only a 64-bit memory interface and not the 128-bit interface that big bro has. Well, the features and the points above show clearly that this is much more of a mainstream PC’s motherboard. You can also bet that these will be priced very aggressively to take over the mainstream market as much as possible. Only around $70 and up for 400MHz FSB and DDR400 support is pretty nice.

As usual, these new platform processors’ drivers can be installed and updated via NVIDIA’s convenient Unified Driver Architecture (UDA). The UDA covers drivers for graphics, auido, GART, SMBUS, memory controllers, NVMAC and IDE for the original nForce, nForce2 and CrushK8. One simple package installs everything your motherboard needs.

So, what have we learned so far? Basically this — the nForce2 Ultra 400 is for you the gamer, you the overclocker, you the enthusiast; while the nForce2 400 is for your little sis and your mama. And we will still get to use UDA.

More About the Features

I’ve already pointed out some of the important differences between the nForce2 Ultra 400 and the nForce2 400, but there are several others worth noting. Before we get into those though, in case it isn’t clear yet, these two platform processors are what you’ll see in place of SPP, i.e. instead of seeing “nForce2 SPP + nForce2 MCP-T,” you’d see “nForce2 Ultra 400 + nForce2 MCP-T” or “nForce2 400 + nForce2 MCP, etc.” You see the nForce2 Ultra 400 and nForce2 400 are the new SPPs or System Platform Processors. While that might seem pretty elementary to some, I still think others may appreciate the clarification. Here is a table from NVIDIA’s documentation showing the platform processors’ features at a glance, followed by a quick review of the Media and Communicator Processor (MCP) features (Click the images to view larger versions!).

nForce2 Ultra 400, nForce2 400 and IGP Features at a Glance
MCP Features at a Glance

So, the ultimate board now will feature the nForce2 Ultra 400 + nForce2 MCP-T NVIDIA solution, and what a solution it is — support for DualDDR 400, 400MHz FSB, 128-bit memory interface, SoundStorm, NVIDIA’s DualNet and much more. According to NVIDIA, this solution is ideal for extreme gamers, overclockers, multimedia enthusiasts and power users, and it is set to compete with the Intel 875 chipset. On the other hand, for the average home PC user and casual gamer (the so-called “mainstream”), NVIDIA’s suggested ideal solution would be the nForce2 400 + nForce2 MCP, which will compete with the Via KT600, Via KT400a and SiS748 chipsets. You should have noticed in the table of features above that the nForce2 400 only supports MCP and not MCP-T. Decreasing the flexibility of the nForce2 400 was probably a decision made to help with the planned aggressive pricing — less flexibility = less cost.

     

One more interesting thing to note is that as of now, there is no version of these platform processors with integrated graphics. So for the inclusion of onboard graphics, you’ll still be looking at the original IGP.

Conclusion


Well, the nForce2 Ultra 400 and nForce2 400 platform processors aren’t really anything shocking or unexpected, but it is still exciting news nonetheless. I’m sure those of you who just placed orders last week for nForce2 boards are frowning right now, wondering why you couldn’t have just waited one or two more weeks. We all know that feeling I think. But I guess it’s not too much of an issue right now with the lack of 400MHz FSB AMD Athlons available. They will be readily available soon though.

Both the enthusiast market with the nForce2 Ultra 400 and the mainstream market with the nForce2 400 have something to look forward to with this announcement. nForce2 has really propelled NVIDIA onto the motherboard market as the current AMD solution leader, and only time will tell if these new offerings strengthen its leading role. It seems to be a safe bet, though, that NVIDIA has another set of winners with the nForce2 Ultra 400 and nForce2 400 boards. Now, if I could just get my hands on an Ultra 400 and a new 3200+, I could see just how well it really does perform! ;-)

*** Edit: I just found this information on GamePC.com:

It turns out that the revision 2 boards that several companies have released in the past month or so are actually sporting the nForce2 Ultra 400 and not the original SPP. For example, the Asus’ version 2.0 A7N8X Deluxe motherboard, which was released about a month ago, features the Ultra 400 platform processor. Hmm… for more on this, go here.

Links to companies’ nForce2 Ultra 400 / nForce2 400 offerings (will add links as I find them):

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