A core logic chipset produced by nVidia. The nForce is based on their chipset for the PC-like Xbox console, but with support for the AMD Athlon and Duron CPUs rather than the Intel Pentium III. In addition to providing impressive integrated video, sound, and Ethernet hardware, it uses HyperTransport to connect the northbridge (IGP) to the southbridge (MCP) for improved performance.
The IGP (Integrated Graphics Processor) contains several very nice features, including an integrated GeForce2 MX graphics core, AGP 4X controller, dual channel 133MHz DDR SDRAM support (which provides a 128-bit wide bus akin to the one on the GeForce3), and a hardware prefetch unit. The dual memory controller provides more memory bandwidth than any contemporary SDRAM chipset, 4.3GB/s, and the hardware prefetch unit acts like the one in the Palomino Athlon, caching possibly-needed data from main memory.
The MCP (Media and Communications Processor) is also significantly different from other southbridges. It contains the usual features of a southbridge, an IDE controller, a USB root hub, and PCI and LPC bus controllers. It then adds a soft modem codec, 10/100 Ethernet, and a powerful 'APU' (nVidia's name for a sound card with DSP). This sound hardware should be at least comparable to a Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 and its Emu10K1 DSP, though perhaps inferior to the SoundBlaster Audigy.
In January 2002, there were relatively few mainboards available based on the nForce, partly because it is a more difficult chipset to work with then the VIA KT266A, partly because the performance of the chipset wasn't as amazing as everyone thought, and partly because nVidia wasn't as trusted as the other chipset manufacturers, since they were a recent entrant to the market. The integrated graphics core, though more powerful than other entries in the market, was slower than any contemporary standalone video card, including the GeForce 2 MX which it is built from. Finally, the integrated sound had not been fully leveraged on the boards currently in production.
In the intervening years, nVidia has become a prominent vendor of chipsets for both AMD and Intel processors, possibly being the dominant vendor for AMD's Athlon 64 and Sempron processors prior to AMD's re-entry to the chipset market with the purchase of ATI. There have been seven generations of nForce chipsets as of mid-2008, which have been popular for providing the option of relatively powerful integrated graphics or support for multiple PCI Express graphics cards on both AMD and Intel platforms.
This writeup is copyright 2001-2002,2008 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence.