I originally posted this on my site, but figured it would do just as nicely here.

The nForce 680i has been a staple in the enthusiast category of chipsets for over a year now.  This piece of tech has been remarkably long lived, and quite successful.  While a few problems had to be ironed out throughout its lifetime, it has been the basis for quite a few high end machines from both DIYers and OEMs alike.  It provided excellent performance combined with good overclocking potential.  NVIDIA’s new 780i is an interesting beast which is more evolutionary rather than revolutionary though.

I think the best way to categorize this product is “680i on a bit of HGH”.  There are three chips that make up the 780i platform, and two of them have been seen before.  The northbridge is actually comprised of two chips, the 780i SPP and the nForce 200 PCI-E Gen 2.  The 780i SPP is functionally identical to the older 680i, but likely it is a slightly tweaked and respun version.  Its 16X PCI-E link is “overclocked” and used to connect to the nForce 200 chip.  It is clocked up to 4.5 GT/sec, rather than the fully spec’d 5 GT/sec that PCI-E Gen 2 supports.  Theoretically it should give more than enough bandwidth to the cards sitting on the nForce 200.  The nForce 200 is a new chip that supports 32 lanes of PCI-E Gen 2.  The southbridge is actually the nForce 570 SLI chip, which connects to the northbridge through Hypertransport and has another 16 lanes of Gen 1 (plus a 12 extra PCI-E lanes going to other slots if needed).

So basically we have a mainly recycled platform with some extra bug fixes and support for PCI-E Gen 2 and Tri-SLI.  It also fixes the incompatibilities that the 680i designs suffered with Intel’s latest 45 nm processors.  The products being released today do not officially support the upcoming 1600 MHz FSB parts from Intel either.  NVIDIA has stated that they will have a new part ready for when those processors actually hit the market… which looks to be a late January to March timeframe, depending on how Intel wants to handle its own little “errata” problem with their 45 nm quad parts.  The chipset also supports memory speeds up to DDR-2 800 speeds, though NVIDIA claims that the memory controller works perfectly fine up to 1200 MHz speeds.

The new boards support the latest version of nTune, as well as NVIDIA’s new ESA platform.  NVIDIA should be releasing these programs today.  Overclocking support out of the bag appears good, and they are doing their best to cater to the enthusiast market.  The 570 SLI chip is actually quite robust in terms of features.  Dual Gig-E, 6 SATA 2.0, ATA channels, 10 USB ports, and High Definition Audio.  It does not support AHCI, but with the nForce drivers installed it does support hot swappable drives and NCQ.

The biggest problem facing the 780i is power consumption.  The older 680i sucked up quite a bit of juice, and adding the nForce 200 to the mix will not help.  Sure enough, it appears as though the 780i will lead the pack when it comes to eating up your energy dollars.

The 780i does look to be a decent chipset, and quite a few manufacturers will release parts based on both the reference design (XFX, EVGA, BFG) as well as original designs (Asus, MSI, Gigabyte, etc.).  This will help plug the gap for a while between NVIDIA’s offerings and the other PCI-E 2.0 compliant boards out there (based on Intel’s X38 and AMD’s 7 series).  NVIDIA is working on another product that will address the PCI-E 2.0/1600 MHz FSB space, but won’t be delivering this for a couple of months.  Until that time, the 780i will be NVIDIA’s top end offering, as well as being the only one support full speed Tri-SLI (the 680i supports it, but one slot is not full 16X speed).

Tech Report has a nice little overview of this number up, and one should go read it to get a better idea what I am talking about.

Ryan has the reference board in the lab right now, but unfortunately it arrived as he was leaving for New York for the AMD Analyst’s meeting.  Look to see more coverage on this product at a later date.