Although we had only a couple of days to work on this review, during that time we were able to gain a decent overall impression of the new PCI Express chipset from NVIDIA. nForce4 is pretty much what everybody had expected: existing features were upgraded, such as RAID support and integrated Gigabit Ethernet, while the chipset's graphics interface transitioned from AGP 8X to x16 PCI Express.
While this is definitely one of the most important steps in bringing the Athlon64 architecture forward, it does not have a direct impact on performance today. The simple reason is that AGP 8X bandwidth is currently fast enough for the volume of textures copied from today's graphics accelerators to main memory. Also, there was nothing to expect with respect to memory performance, since this device is part of the CPU and works at maximum possible performance anyways.
Due to the short time between the arrival of the test sample and the release date of the chipset, we did not have enough time to go through all the features in detail. For example, there is NVIDIA's RAID support that allows RAID arrays to be spanned over all available devices such as UltraATA and Serial ATA. In addition, this is the first chipset with Serial ATA II support. NVIDIA's firewall was further improved and features a hardware packet inspection engine. And, finally, there is NVIDIA's nTune software that is meant to facilitate overclocking and monitoring.
The rush that accompanied the chipset launch is symptomatic of the entire industry these days: everybody is acrimoniously fighting to push new products to the market, whether they can be delivered or not. One of the few positive exceptions is AMD, but most others do not leave the best impression on customers -including NVIDIA.
We will bring you an in-depth, detailed chipset comparison as soon as all products from ATI, NVIDIA and VIA are finally available.