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ASUS M3N-HT Deluxe Review - nForce 780a SLI for Phenom Arrives

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: NVIDIA
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The NVIDIA 700a Series of Chipsets

The Delays are Finally Over

The NVIDIA nForce 780a chipset has been on our radar for what seems like forever.  Even though our first official discussion about it with NVIDIA came at CES in January we had actually heard about it several times prior to that.  The chipset was always "right around the cornet" but as you can see the product went through several delays before its final release today in May.  The reasons behind the delay are multi-faceted but they definitely have an effect on the overall chipset outlook in today's market. 

Let's dive into the NVIDIA 700-series of chipsets for the AMD Phenom platform and see what they have to offer.

nForce 780a SLI Chipset

There are actually three chipsets launching today though just one has made its way to a retail product for launch, the enthusiast-labeled nForce 780a SLI. 

The MCP north bridge on the nForce 780a is a completely new design that now integrates a graphics core on the chipset even for their high-end product line.  The 780a chipset is based on the GeForce 8200 GPU design that we discussed and previews back in January and is based on the G86 technology also used on the GeForce 8400 and 8500 discrete graphics cards.

The enthusiast level platform 780a chipset will utilize an nForce 200 chip, which we are familiar from on the nForce 780i SLI chipset for the Intel platform, to provide PCI Express 2.0 support in the form of two full x16 connections.  To add support for 3-Way SLI there is a x16 PCIe 1.0 slot provided as well. 

NVIDIA boasts in their press material that the nForce 200 chip brings the two above technologies to the nForce 780a SLI chipset, known as PW Short and Broadcast, that improve SLI performance for up to four GPUs.  While this is definitely the case we can't be feel a little cheated since this technology was integrated into the Intel-based nForce 790i Ultra SLI chipset earlier in the year.  Instead, users of the AMD-platform will have to deal with the two-chip design that generates much more heat.

The other features on the 780a SLI chipset have been seen on NVIDIA chipsets for a while now: Gigabit Ethernet (though only support for 1 connection now), 12 USB 2.0 ports, Azalia audio, 6 SATA drives with RAID support, 3 x1 PCI Express 1.0 slots and up to five legacy PCI slots.  ESA (Enthusiast System Architecture) support is also included in the 780a SLI chipset as is a completely new technology called Hybrid SLI.  We'll cover the Hybrid story on the following pages.

nForce 750a SLI Chipset

The mid-range chipset debuting today is the nForce 750a SLI and the block diagram for it lies below.

The primary difference between the 780a and the 750a products is the lack of the nForce 200 chip on the 750a SLI product.  This means that SLI support is relegated to two x8 PCIe 2.0 slots and thus 3-Way SLI technology isn't an option.  ESA support has also been cut from the 750a platform but other than that the platforms are identical, using the same MCP with integrated graphics and Hybrid SLI support.

nForce 730a Chipset

Finally we have the nForce 730a - a non-SLI chipset for budget systems.

After dropping the nForce 200 chip and any SLI support, the nForce 730a chipset supplies just a single x16 PCIe 2.0 slot that supports Hybrid SLI and GeForce Boost technology.  Interestingly, apparently the 730a chipset doesn't support any DDR2 memory but I am guessing that's a slide creation error rather than a technical limitation.  ;)

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