Introducing NVIDIA nForce Professional



NVIDIA is a leader in graphics and digital media processors as we should all know by now. They are always bringing new ideas and technology to the computer industry and do a great job at it. I attended a phone/online presentation a few days ago where they talked about their new nForce Professional chipset and why it was the next best thing since SLIced bread. I have to say that I was impressed when I first got the email and the presentation increased my enthusiasm towards this idea.

NVIDIA has been putting out their nForce line of chipsets for years now. On the consumer side of things they are currently up to nForce 4 which is designed for socket 939 AMD processors. This nForce 4 chipset introduced PCI-Express to the AMD side of things and brought SLI back to the computer industry, something that went away when Voodoo closed it’s doors many years ago. This chipset also featured gigabit Ethernet and SATA RAID as well as a few other nice features. This nForce 4 chipset utilizes a single chip design as well as a Unified Driver Architecture. A press release for the nForce Professional chipset was released this morning at 6AM PST. The nForce Professional is a scalable PCI-Express chipset designed for AMD Opteron platforms. This chipset is very similar to the nForce 4 chipset with some changes of course.

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This new chipset is scaleable and has a lot integrated into it which makes it ideal for server and workstation environments. Using a fifth-generation HyperTransport design it directly connects to the AMD Opteron to provide an 800MHz connection. Because the Operons are 32/64-bit compatible this chipset is as well. According to this slide the dual core processors from AMD should be unveiled sometime this year and will be supported. This chipset also uses a Unified Driver Architecture which means the drivers are backwards and forwards compatible with NVIDIA hardware. This will save you from frustration because you won’t have to keep track of many drivers like you normally would with an OEM system.

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The nForce Professional 2200 MCP chip communicates directly with the Opteron via the HyperTransport link which currently operates at 800MHz. There is flexible PCI-Express which has 4 controllers and 40 lanes. This chipset has integrated gigabit Ethernet, 4 SATA 3Gb/s, 4 ATA-133, NVIDIA RAID, and Native Command-Queuing. There are also 10 USB ports available and PCI 2.3 if the motherboard manufacturer wants to include it. The nForce Professional 2050 is a I/O companion chip for the nForce Processional 2200 MCP. This chip is sort of like a traditional southbridge would by handling I/O functions. Each 2050 chip provides additional I/O capability by adding 4 controllers and 20 lanes to the PCI-Express bus. It also adds another gigabit Ethernet port, and 4 more SATA 3Gb/s.

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If you work with 2D/3D graphics a lot then the Quadro is for you. Quadro cards are a great choice when working with CAD, DCC, and O&G as well as other applications. These types of applications are traditionally used in financial, gas/oil, and software development types of environments. NVIDIA’s currently offers 6 different choices in their lineup of PCI-Express Quadro cards. The FX 3400 and FX 4400 are SLI ready which make them a prime choice for workstations using the nForce professional chipset. By using 2 Quadro video cards in the x16 PCI-Express slots you will be able to do split screen or alternate frame rendering. You will also have multi-monitor capability, which means theoretically you could use four monitors since each Quadro has dual DVI connections.

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By now you should be able to tell that the NVIDIA Professional platform has been designed for servers and workstations. This is the area where the single chip design, UDA, and support for Windows and Linux mean a lot. The single chip design will increase motherboard real estate giving manufactures more room to add optional onboard devices and other features. The UDA will also be very helpful in a server environment allowing you to roll out a single set of new drivers to a server farm. Doing so will relieve your network administrator and reduce problems with driver incompatibility and conflict. Obviously Linux is being used more everyday in server and workstation environments. Because of this NVIDIA has done the right thing by fully supporting Linux. As far as other operating systems like BSD nothing was able to be said officially at the time of the presentation.

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The nForce Professional chipset can be integrated into different environments depending on your needs. This means you have the option of a single standalone server, blade server, or rackmount environment. Of course all of this depends on what manufactures produce and sell. As you can imagine there are some great benefits to using a nForce Professional based platform. PCI-Express offers a lot of bandwidth, something any system administrator would appreciate. This bandwidth will allow server level add on cards like fibrechannel, Host Bus Adapters (HBAs), and SCSI controllers to be taken to a new level. You will also be able to implement multiport 10Gb Ethernet in the future. It is possible to have up to 3 of the 2050 chips on a motherboard to work with the 2200 chip. So with a single 2200 and 3 2050 chips you could have a total of 16 controllers and 80 lanes for your PCI-Express bus. You would also have four 1Gb Ethernet ports and be able to have up to 16 SATA drives in a RAID setup.

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There are three types of workstation platforms that will be available. A high-end which will feature a nForce Professional 2200 + 2050 MCP, dual Opterons, and have dual Quadros with SLI capabilities. A mid-range platform that will feature the nForce Professional 2200, dual Opterons, and single Quadro. Finally is the entry-level platform which will be almost the same as the mid-range platform, except only having a single Opteron. There are many benefits to this new nForce professional workstation platform. First off is PCI-Express which offers bi-directional performance, configurable bandwidth, Isochronous data transfer, and of course SLI in the high-end platform. Your workstation will also benefit from gigabit Ethernet networking, dual Gigabit Ethernet in the high-end platform and SATA RAID from NVIDIA.

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This is something that NVIDIA has obviously put a research and development into as well as a lot of time I’m sure. As this technology starts to hit the market companies will start to manufacture motherboards and systems based on this chipset. Although I can’t mention some of the things that were discussed in the presentation there looks to be good manufacturer support already lined up. Hopefully soon we will start to see some of these products on the market, and possibly be reviewed here at OCmodshop.

Brandon Turnbull is a technology enthusiast living in southern California. He has written numerous articles and tutorials about PC overclocking and modification.