Nvidia taps DDR330 for next NForce chipsets

Nvidia has ramped up its NForce chipsets to support speedy DDR333 memory. The company is demonstrating its new NForce 615-D and 620-D chipsets, which are shipping in the second quarter. Nvidia is also previewing new NForce chipsets that run DDR400 memory.

Nvidia and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. are giving the demonstration at the CeBIT show in Hanover, Germany, this week. Boards based on both the 615-D and 620-D are scheduled to be available late in the second quarter from a variety of vendors, such as MSI Computer Corp., Asustek Computer Inc., and Leadtek Research Inc.

"We've been getting a 20 to 28 percent [performance] increase -- pretty substantial," says Bryan Del Rizzo, a Nvidia spokesperson. "And that's all from increased memory bandwidth."

Smaller Jumps

DDR333 memory uses a 167-MHz bus to connect a PC's main memory with the chip set, typically producing a 2.7GB per second throughput. By comparison, currently available DDR266 memory uses a 133-MHz bus, for a maximum throughput of 2.1GB per second.

In a dual-channel platform such as the NForce 615-D or 620-D, DDR333 chipsets provide a total bandwidth pipeline of 5.4GB per second, according to Nvidia. But even with the faster memory, normal application performance won't be heightened as much.

"If you make your memory 50 percent faster, you pick up a 5 to 10 percent performance increase in running applications," says Peter Glaskowsky, an analyst with MicroDesign Resources. "This jump isn't that big, so I'd expect only a few percent performance increase."

End users who buy systems that use integrated graphics will see the greatest increase in performance with the new chipsets. The 620-D includes an integrated graphics chip, while the 615-D does not. Vendors are expected to release boards in both configurations.

Del Rizzo agrees that normal system performance won't leap significantly. "If you're not going to be using integrated graphics, DDR333 isn't that much of a performance [enhancement] yet," he says.

Carl Rowe, a graphics analyst with Forrester Research Inc., says he will hold his enthusiasm in check until the new chipsets come to market.

"It's actually hard to know the performance benefits," he says. "There could be a bottleneck in the graphics processors that makes the additional memory bandwidth irrelevant."

Still, Nvidia expects DDR333 chipsets to make a splash on the market. DDR333 is projected to command market share numbers of 20 to 25 percent, Del Rizzo says.

"If that holds true, there will be large demand for products that support it. That's why we're broadening our entire product family," he says.

What's more, the demonstrations of the NForce 615-D and 620-D running with DDR400 show the next possible generation of system memory.

"DDR400 hasn't been ratified yet," says Del Rizzo. "It'll be a while, if it does come to market. But as far as compatibility issues, we've already got it working."

Analyst Glaskowsky expects to see DDR400 prevalent by the end of the year. "And then we get DDR2 next year--very much like DDR but it runs at lower voltages," he says. "It will come in at 400 MHz and go up from there."

We can expect to see vendors supporting the faster memory soon, the analysts say. "As memory becomes available at commodity prices, everyone supports it. Nobody passes up on faster memory," Gaskowsky says.

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Joel Strauch

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