Nils Dahl: On nForce and XP

By Nils Dahl

Date: October 1, 2001


Honest marketing

For those who want "the best" introduction to nForce, one Internet article stands far above the rest [ed: shucks, thanks.].

The prototype nForce system was tested using custom software that exercised the new features.  One test is missing, sadly.  I believe that use of a high end RAID hard drive system would have provided more information on the performance of the HyperTransport interface between I/O and memory/processor.  Maybe that will come later [ed: if nVidia would send us a review unit and we fall into enough money to purchase the RAID equipment we are willing].

nForce is a very important design for the current computer market -- where many people don't own computers and hesitate to buy one out of concern over buying the wrong model.  Educating people about the complexities of hardware choices just isn't possible because most potential first time buyers lack the knowledge that would permit them to understand all the technical pros and cons.

nForce solves that problem by delivering a very high level of performance for all the uses one might expect a home user to need or want.  nForce provides an excellent choice for those who have the least amount of money to spend yet need a high quality product.

What gets many of us old timers angry is the quality of Intel's offerings.  Intel likes to promote the idea of doing very complex work in software - software that is specially written to make use of Intel's instructions sets (SSE2 at this time). Examples are often created to demonstrate how Intel's latest designs can perform.  While running Quake 3 Arena is undoubtedly enjoyable for game enthusiasts, this is not going to be the primary use of most home computers. Honest.

To gain access to the vast array of software that exists today, a system must be designed to run all that software well.  That is what nForce does, paired with Athlon XP processors that are specifically designed to perform well with today's operating systems, applications. tools, servers, and other software.  nForce represents an ideal platform for developing a superb consumer Linux package also - or some BSD variant - or for porting MacOS X. 

nForce raises the actual performance level for all kinds of uses to a state-of-the-art level.  Thus nForce promises to be the answer to a most satisfying first time computer purchase by all those people who really need something good but didn't know what to choose.  nForce also provides sufficient horsepower to run Windows XP at satisfying performance levels.

Consider Blender - a wonderful free 3D design and animation package.  I tried it out on my old pentium 133 with Matrox Mystique 220 video card.  Not satisfactory at all.  I have been impatiently waiting for something better since late 1997.

I have watched Intel change to slots and back to socket, then to the same socket with different pins used, and finally to new processors in two different sockets (so far).  The chipset and main memory offerings from Intel have been expensive or unsatisfactory.  All this stuff gets to market mainly via part pricing that favors all-Intel box makers and provides heavy advertising subsidies.

Do you really want your money to pay for Intel and box maker advertising or do you want that money going into a system that works well for you?

Meanwhile, the computing experience still comes from the software that each of us runs on our computer, not from the processor and chipset. Those bits of hardware only enable the software to run - and are supposed to provide superior support for the software, specifically for the software that exists today.  AMD, nVidia, and Microsoft are marketing a total package that delivers a satisfactory or superior user experience. Good for them.

What does the future hold for us? Look at the XBox for examples. The XBox shows how capable DDR SDRAM is as a memory system - even when paired with a rather slow Intel Pentium III.  Imagine XBox with a superior Athlon XP processor. Imagine the XBox driving a rapid evolution of DDR SDRAM -- complemented by next generation nForce designs that are aimed at the "big iron" world of computing. 

It is even possible that working models exist for a mass market Clawhammer design in the near future, something that uses interleaved PC 2600 or faster DDR SDRAM and offers 2 pairs of slots. Athlon XP, in high yield production lines, becomes the low cost solution for all kinds of sealed boxes.  AMD's Dresden fab might be moving in those directions already.

What about Intel?  Well, I am quite familiar with sense amplifiers and the technologies that are used in RDRAM. A sense amplifier is an analog circuit that "senses" the leading edge of a digital pulse and "restores" its shape -- literally recreates the pulse itself.  This was and is an essential way of handling the tendency of digital pulses to get distorted as they travel long paths through logic systems.

Sense amplifiers generate far more heat than do simple on/off logic circuits.  Sense amplifiers are to be avoided whenever possible.  The only motive for forcing an industry to accept such archaic design concepts is in the monetary rewards of having all such designs covered by patents. Then the license fees and royalties flow rapidly.

Today's computer industry is based on cross licensing of patents and designs. It is for this reason that Intel has "innovated" with designs such as IDE drive interfacing - a technology invented by Conner division of Compaq and later sold to Intel.  Anyone ever own a system with ESDI hard drives - the very first (and fastest) plug and play hard drive design?

While Intel ignored Apple's FireWire, other countries' designers embraced its superior performance and delivered a whole industry of fine products that use FireWire very effectively.  Intel prefers owning the technologies and so continues to invent alternatives that take years to reach maturity.  I have never considered trying to enable the USB ports on my 1997 Sony VAIO system.  But I paid for those ports as part of the system cost.

So do you want a superior experience using a computer that runs today's world of software well?  Or do you want to buy a box containing nonfunctional features that may never work properly, processors that only run future software designs efficiently (maybe), and then wait for promises to be kept?

My money is going for a near future nForce system.  The system will have a Maxtor Firewire interface card added so that I can use Maxtor's external FireWire hard drives for extra storage [ed: 1394b looks like a promising alternative to Serial ATA].  Microsoft's new Windows XP operating system removes the limits on storage device capacity and on number of devices permitted.  I will not miss the older generation Windows with all its limitations. [ed: with XP's WPA and other invasive features, Linux cannot be overlooked as well.]

I can't afford to support Intel's rapid obsolescence marketing program and throw computers away once a year. Neither can most of you.

nils dahl

unpaid professional zealot at large

See Rule Number One - in Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett shopping for a good used cave at Delphi


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