Nvidia has released its third-generation nForce chipset, targeted at AMD's Opteron chip and its first official move into the professional graphics workstation systems arena. The company already offers pro graphics chips in the shape of its Quadro range.
With the Opteron handling memory control, the nForce 3 Pro is essentially a glorified South Bridge chip with an AGP 8x controller thrown in. While past nForce chipset components talked to each other across a HyperTransport bus, the single-chip nForce 3 uses the same bus to communicate directly with the host processor.
In addition to AGP 8x support, nForce 3 provides RAID 0 and 1 - providing disk striping and disk mirroring, respectively - separately or in parallel. RAID works with both ATA-133 and Serial ATA drives, though the latter won't by supported until Q3. ATA support is provided by the nForce 3 Pro 150, which is shipping today. It offers three Ultra ATA-133 interfaces. Serial ATA will come with the Pro 250, due in the autumn, presumably to tap into the arrival of Opterons for uni-processor workstations - itself awaiting the arrival of the Athlon 64 in September - not to mention the greater availability of Serial ATA hard drives. The Pro 250 will offer four Serial ATA ports and two ATA-133 interfaces.
The new chipset also supports a number of technologies sported by earlier nForce parts, including AC 97, PCI, USB 2.0, 10/100Mbps Ethernet and the StreamThru data stream prioritisation system. The Pro 250 chipset will also offer Gigabit Ethernet, providing two ports.
Both nForce 3 chipsets will be fabbed at 0.15 micron.
Nvidia also announced that 16 systems builders have signed up to offer nForce 3 Pro-based Opteron workstations: @Xi, Alienware, Angstrom Microsystems, BOXX Technologies, Colfax International, Concordia Graphics, Core Microsystems, DigitalScape, Einux, Hypersonic PC, Max Black, MaxVision, NTSI, Polywell, Si Computer Italy and Sys Technology. Most of them, it has to be said, are the usual suspects - vendors who've been offering AMD-based workstations for some time, and for whom nForce 3 marks a natural - and now official - upgrade from nForce 2.
In addition, Nvidia said it had signed Asustek to offer nForce 3 Pro-based mobos, which are now sampling - presumably with units going to the above hardware vendors. ®