Cost-Defying Single-Channel Platforms: Chipsets from NVIDIA and VIA

Features: What To Expect

You can buy motherboards with an nForce2 400 chipset, while they might be harder to find than the dual-channel nForce2 Ultra 400. As a low-cost chipset, most non-Ultra boards have only the most necessary features. That's not necessarily a drawback. After all, how many people do you know who really need three different IDE (RAID) controllers with all the bells and whistles?

nForce2 400 Vs. KT600: Features

Since the two chipsets have similar specifications, we decided to omit the features table this time. Both support all Socket A processors, from the Duron 600 at 100 MHz FSB right up to the Athlon XP 3200+ at 200 MHz FSB and 2.2 GHz. 133 and 166 MHz FSB clocks are also supported.

You can cherry-pick your RAM as well: DDR266, DDR333 or DDR400, depending on your druthers. Of course, top-shelf modules with fast timings promise the best performance, but run-of-the-mill DIMMs are also supported. Whereas dual-channel boards can give you problems if your RAM modules are less than perfectly identical (which is why manufacturers started selling matched DIMM pairs several months ago), single-channel systems are relatively problem-free.

An AGP 8x interface (3.0) is included on both chipsets, as are modern Southbridges (nForce2 MCP/MCP-T and VIA VT8237). Once the nForce2 was launched, NVIDIA had an advantage in that the Southbridge offers two network controllers that only need a small codec chip for them to work. Several motherboard makers have in fact adopted this feature, providing you with both an on-board network card and the DSL interface.

VIA's VT8237 is the newer kid on the block, as the integrated serial-ATA controller shows. This is a feature that NVIDIA has yet to match; the only way around it is by opting for the KT600, or a motherboard with an additional built-in serial-ATA controller. Since that kind of extra drives up costs, you'd be hard pressed to find it on any big-name board.

USB 2.0 ports, on the other hand, are pretty common. NVIDIA boasts six, and VIA eight of them. Of course, it's up to you to decide whether you really need that kind of interface bounty. If your scanner, printer, mouse, keyboard, digital camera, hard drive, webcam and telephone are all based on USB, you might just need a large number of ports.

The nForce2 also sports a FireWire interface so as to permit two ports to be integrated at minimal cost. VIA in turn supports up to 4 GB RAM - one GB more than NVIDIA.

Of course, these are all theoretical selling points. Even the number of USB ports supported is relatively unimportant. What really counts in our eyes is the choice between two network ports and serial ATA.