nForce Software Installation and Audio/Networking Performance

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While I mentioned the idea of an integrated software solution in my nForce Chipset Preview, it wasn’t until I got the actual hardware and was able to use the drivers that I was truly impressed by it.

While VIA does have the 4-in-1 setup of drivers that has the ability to install the system drivers for you computer if you are running both north and south bridge chipsets from VIA, the NVIDIA version of this becomes even more simple and quick. A single installation file, which is currently at about a 5 MB download for the latest revision, installs all the drivers necessary for every component of your system, including video, audio, network, AGP, modem and more (this is of course assuming that you are using all the NVIDIA integrated peripherals). This makes system setup an absolute breeze for users with limited experience in configuring hardware.

Audio and Network Performance

To be perfectly honest, there is no clear way to judge the performance of the output of an audio system – at least not with the limited resources available to me. All I can give you is my opinion on the sound quality of the integrated sound.

It is obvious that NVIDIA has succeeded where many have failed in the past. The integrated audio system that they have included on the MCP is certified for Dolby Digital 5.1 channel output. The optical connector on the riser card gives the user the option of connecting their computer to the latest and greatest in theater equipment. Connecting the card to my Sony digital receiver on my home-theater system provided me with the best sound quality I have heard on a computer.

While I am not going to get into many of the details and benefits of an optical audio solution (after all, this is a motherboard review), I can assure you that you will not be disappointed with what the nForce boards will offer you. Using my Klipsch 5.1 audio speakers, I was also able to verify that the 5.1 channel output provided by the riser card and external connections works great. I can now see the day that I will no longer need to purchase an additional sound card for any of my PCs.

As for the network performance, I didn’t have a chance to test the bandwidth throughput or CPU usage in any way except by casually observing what I saw in the Task Manager of Windows XP. While using an external 3Com 10/100 network card and transferring a 625 MB disk image file from the nForce board to my personal machine, I saw a noticeable difference in the CPU consumption when using the on-board MCP-powered network card. While transferring the file on the 3Com card, there was a steady 15% processor usage that was reported. However, on the integrated NIC, the usage was steadily below the 5% mark.

While that testing method is 100% accurate and there may be another way of doing the benchmark more accurately, that should give you some idea of what to expect.

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