Articles: Mainboards

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Sad as it might seem, but there are very few chipsets to choose from as far as the Socket 939 platform is concerned, even though this platform has become quite mature and popular already. Those hardware enthusiasts who decide to build a contemporary Athlon 64 platform with a PCI Express bus hardly have any choice at all. Over 95% of all mainboards for this particular platform are based on various modifications of NVIDIA nForce4 chipset. As for all other core logic developers, they failed to roll out any high-performance functional solutions for Athlon 64 platform with PCI Express bus support that could satisfy the demands of computer enthusiasts. And while NVIDIA keeps gaining more and more popularity in the high-end and mainstream mainboard chipset market, the traditional competitors, VIA and SiS, keep rolling downhill into the value segment. The only thing that keeps them afloat is probably a few successful partnerships with large OEMs and system integrators.

In fact, there are a lot of disadvantages in the upcoming NVIDIA’s monopolization of the Socket 939 chipset market. One of the major drawbacks is the price, of course. This is exactly the reason why we desperately need some other chipset solution to compete with NVIDIA’s nForce4. Unfortunately, the policy most of the Taiwanese chipset developers have been pursuing lately took this hope completely away from us.

However, things are not completely hopeless. There is one more chipset developer who has kept silent for a while. This company is a well-known Canadian graphics processors developer – ATI Technologies. To be fair I should say that ATI has been making chipsets for quite a while now. However, their solutions didn’t enjoy broad popularity among computer enthusiasts. In fact, they were simply unknown to them. And the reason for that is very simple: in the chipset business ATI preferred to focus mostly on partnerships with OEM companies, and simply ignored the DIY market. As a result, the mainboard manufacturers developed solutions based on ATI chipsets only if they received a big order from one of their OEM customers. Therefore, those mainboards that still managed to make it into the retail channel couldn’t boast any specific capabilities and features typical of the high-end enthusiast platforms.

Luckily, the time passes by and changes. It looks like ATI has decided to give up the way the used to handle the chipset business and to pay attention to the individual end-users. And this is not accidental. While NVIDIA managed to win a lot of users’ hearts due to their SLI technology that allowed using two graphics cards “in a tandem”, ATI has to introduce their own alternative aka CrossFire. However, besides special graphics cards, these technologies also require new platforms with two graphics interfaces onboard. That is why the announcement of SLI and CrossFire technologies was loudly accompanied by the launches of chipsets and mainboards capable of working with two graphics cards at a time. Of course, the primary target for SLI and CrossFire technologies is the extreme gaming segment. And extreme gamers are typical representatives of the overclocking enthusiasts group. This is exactly the reason why ATI has changed its priorities in the chipset development and marketing and decided to pay attention to the hardcore user segment.

The first ATI chipset to become the basis for the new mainboard formation is Radeon Xpress 200P. This set of core logic also well-known under the codename of RX480, has been available in the market for quite a while already. However, the first mainboards for gaming systems based on this chipset will start appearing in the market only this fall. This way, ATI Radeon Xpress 200P will be reborn this fall as a high-end chipset. In this article we are going to take a closer look at this solution to find out how attractive it is going to be in its new incarnation.

So, the main topic on our today’s agenda is: ATI Radeon Xpress 200P as a competitor to NVIDIA nForce4.

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