Some Chipset History

Despite being first to market with new interfaces, storage controllers and other motherboard-related features, Intel had always been more than conservative with regards to hardcore features. This in spite of having a hardware basis that has been powerful, flexible and usually possessing a lot of headroom for clock speed increases. Overclocking was a taboo that had to be broken carefully over time, and it wasn’t until overclocking had progressed from being an unwanted phenomenon to everybody’s favorite pastime that Intel finally acknowledged it.

Although the X48 is still a 90 nm part, it is highly overclockable, and combines maximum performance with a rich feature set. However, the X48 is only a moderate advance over the X38: the main difference is official support for FSB1600 speeds. Intel has always had a focus on strong interface subsystems, which includes many flexible USB 2.0 ports as well as a powerful storage solution, which it calls Matrix Storage Technology. Although the feature set isn’t richer than Nvidia’s storage feature lineup, Intel has provided better throughput and I/O performance (see storage benchmarks for details). Dual PCI Express interfaces were also introduced with the 975X chipset, supporting ATI’s Crossfire standard.

Nvidia has gone in an entirely different way. For them, entering the chipset business was a logical consequence in order to provide enthusiast and mainstream solutions, rather than just graphics cards. The 3D company had a hard time entering the chipset market with the first nForce chipset generation. AMD’s Athlon 64 success was a key driver for Nvidia’s success of the nForce 3 chipset family. The fourth nForce generation was the first product to also support the Intel platform, as Nvidia wanted to introduce SLI dual graphics support for the AMD and the Intel worlds at the same time.

The nForce chipset family has for some time had more sophisticated dual network controllers that allow users to combine two Gigabit Ethernet ports and to prioritize network traffic (via the DualNet and FirstPacket technologies). The storage management for the six SATA/300 ports and one UltraATA/133 channel is consolidated under what’s called MediaShield technology.