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home : reviews : nForce2 Preview : page 3




Written by Giovanni Glass
July 15, 2002

What's new with Southbridge?
The original nForce southbridge, called Media Communications Processor (MCP), was equally as impressive as the IGP. It packed alot of functionality into a single chip. This included USB 1.1, dual-channel IDE Ultra ATA/100 controller, floppy controller, on-board 10/100 auto-sensing NIC, ACR/CNR support, PCI controller, and AC'97 audio. There will be two versions of the southbridge, the MCP and MCP-T. Both are identical except the MCP has less audio connections than the MCP-T. The MCP will be targeted at mainstream users while the MCP-T is for the enthusiest.

The MCP has a working implementation of AMD's HyperTransport. HyperTransport is a high-speed 800MB/s bus that bridges the MCP to the northbridge. Think of HyperTransport as a four lane highway and any previous implementation such as VIA's V-Link (266MB/s) or PCI as a two lane highway. The latter has a tendency to clog up during rush hour. If you're recording MPEG video or transfering large data files for example, there will be improved performance and less contention with other devices transfering data across HyperTransport. nForce2 HyperTransport remains unchanged from the nForce.

Audio
SoundStorm LogoMany say the audio on the nForce is the final solution for audio. That may be a pre-sumptuous statement, but with the nForce2 it has some truth to it. There is nothing changed from the nForce audio in the nForce2. The primary difference is the push by NVIDIA to give the nForce2 audio more name recognition. nForce2 audio is now simply called SoundStorm. SoundStorm is not just a name, but a standard that PC manufacturers must strive for if they want to display this logo in their marketing material. This means including all connectors necessary to drive SPDIF connections, supply the NVIDIA real-time Dolby Digital encoder, and enhanced software to take advantage of these audio features.

(Warning: Another tangential rant follows) With the original nForce, some nForce board manufacturers failed to provide SPDIF adaptors to tap into the Dolby Digital boards even though they prominently displayed the feature that their motherboard was capable. I have an nForce Abit NV7m and Abit to this day fails to make due on this promise (bad marketing or bad company I guess). Also, Abit's implementation of the nForce audio caused odd flanging/distortion of audio playback. It was so bad, NVIDIA had me send my system in for tests. It turns out NVIDIA fixed it with their latest nForce drivers.

SoundStorm equiped nForce2 motherboards will have all the necessary connectors on a PCI card or directly on the motherboard. Later down the road, NVIDIA may have a break-out adapter like Creative's Audigy Platinum EX drive. Here's a list of SoundStorm specifications.

SoundStorm SpecsSoundStorm Daughter Board
  • 256 Total Voices
  • Input Format Support
    • 1-18 samples per block
    • De-interleaving
    • 8-, 16- and 32-bit containers
  • Output Format Support
    • 1, 2, 4, 6 samples per block
    • 16- or 32-bit containers
  • DirectX 8 Capable
    • Sub-mix bins
    • Second pass processing
  • 64 3D Voices
    • HRTF with cross-talk for speakers
    • I3DL2 reverb
    • Occlusion and obstruction
    • Near field effects
    • Full cross-fade per voice
  • DLS2 Acceleration
    • Two envelope generators per voice
    • Two LFO generators per voice
    • Loop and release segments
    • S filtering
    • Pan, pitch, vibrato, tremolo
    • Reverb and chorus send
  • 32 Bin Mixer
    • 8 per voice volumes are mapped to each bin
    • DX8 loop back processing
  • 7-Band Graphic Equalizer
  • I3DL2 Reverb and Occlusion
  • Hardware/Software Interface
    • Complete system memory based structure and control
    • Fire-and-forget interface - minimum software control
The most intersting feature is the built-in Dolby Digital Encoder. This feature takes positional audio such as DirectSound3D in 3D space and encodes it to Dolby Digital 5.1 in real-time. If you pipe this audio to a Dolby Digital A/V receiver, you're receiver will recreate the audio in 3D using your six speaker setup! New games coming up such as Unreal Tournament 2003, America's Army, and Unreal Warfare engine based games should be support the Dolby Digital output. If you don't have a 5.1 speaker setup, the nForce2 does support Dolby Surround for older receivers.

Outputing to Dolby Digital encoding is a mixed bag. The advantage is by using a digital connection, there's no chance of line noise coming from your computer or power supply to pollute the sound. Audiophiles will love this. Also, there is the obvious consolidation of three audio cables down to one. The bad side is audiophiles will be begging for real-time DTS/DTS-EX output. Dolby Digital bitrates on DVD's typically range from 384kbit/s to 448kbit/s. As to what bitrate the nForce2 MCP-T actually encodes at is a big question for me. DTS can go to 1.5Mb/s which some say is a less lossy encoding format than Dolby Digital thus higher quality. It would be a nice feature down the road.



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