The Southbridge Battle: nforce 6 MCP vs. ICH7 vs. ICH8


All three chipsets come with a very comparable feature set and virtually do not demonstrate differences in performance-that is, unless you spend some time doing in-depth benchmarking tests. RAID level support is similar and all three products support visual notification on array status, which informs you if one of your arrays fails. All three chipsets lack professional options such as email notification, mostly because this typically requires installing an email server locally.

Nvidia's nforce 6 undoubtedly is the most attractive chipset for Intel-powered computers from a feature standpoint. It offers the most comprehensive feature set with six-port SATA, 10 USB 2.0 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet with semi-professional features and an exceptional ease of use. But as we found out, this doesn't mean that nforce 6 is the best choice for everyone.

While it has been around for more than 18 months - which is an eternity in the hardware business - Intel's ICH7-R still offers very good performance across the board. It is inferior to the newer ICH8 and the nforce 6 MCP in the storage I/O performance benchmarks, but apart from that there certainly isn't any reason to replace an ICH7-powered system. But Intel chipsets with ICH7 and ICH8 can rely on their Matrix Storage Technology, which allows one to install multiple RAID arrays across a common set of hard drives.

ICH8 is the real surprise, though, as its technical specifications do not read very different from what you will find for ICH7; there are 10 instead of eight USB 2.0 ports, and the Serial ATA connectivity has been expanded from four to six ports. Yet, its performance increased across the board. Its transfer performance slightly exceeds the benchmark results of ICH7 in almost all disciplines, it wins most of the I/O performance benchmarks and it does substantially better in our USB 2.0 bandwidth test. ICH8 is the only Southbridge product that can sustain high data transfer rates even while two high-performance USB 2.0 devices transfer data at the same time. Given that motherboards based on P965 and ICH8 are cheaper than products based on nforce 680i SLI, deciding which chipset to purchase has become much more difficult.

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