Ever since the original nForce chipset was first announced at Computex in June, 2001, one question has persistently nagged NVIDIA’s platform division “when are you going to produce an Intel chipset?”
Every time the question was asked, NVIDIA executives always gave the politically correct answer of what a wonderful partner AMD was and how they were happy to be in the AMD ecosystem. Early on, NVIDIA was also quick to admit their inexperience at designing, and most importantly, producing chipsets in massive quantities; this was a problem that nagged them when the original nForce chipset, and its follow-up part, nForce2 when they were first introduced. As far as NVIDIA was concerned, the AMD market was keeping them busy enough already, or at least that’s what they told us officially.
Today, after selling millions of nForce chipsets to the AMD market, it’s hard to argue against NVIDIA’s strategy.
nForce4 SLI Intel Edition reference board
Another shot of the reference board
Of course, another key reason why NVIDIA hasn’t produced an Intel chipset to date has nothing to do with chipset production or NVIDIA’s cozy relationship with AMD; the key hang-up between the two companies has been Intel’s asking price for a Pentium 4 bus license. Without a license for Intel’s front-side bus, NVIDIA couldn’t produce a Pentium 4 chipset without getting into legal trouble with Intel. In contrast to AMD, who licenses their bus for free (including HyperTransport) Intel enjoys royalties from the sale of any chipset that uses their bus to communicate to the P4 processor. And if you don’t own a license, Intel will vigorously defend their IP, just ask VIA. (NVIDIA gets around this issue on the Xbox because Microsoft holds a P3 bus license.)
Then, in November of last year, shortly after the first batch of nForce4 SLI systems and motherboards appeared, NVIDIA and Intel announced a broad cross-license agreement. According to the PR the companies signed a “multi-year patent cross-license agreement spanning multiple product lines and product generations. Additionally, the companies signed a multi-year chipset agreement for NVIDIA to license Intel’s front-side bus technology. This will enable NVIDIA to deliver the NVIDIA nForce platform technology on Intel-based systems.”
In other words, as a result of the agreement, NVIDIA finally had the green light to produce an Intel-based chipset.
The product we’re taking a look at today, NVIDIA’s nForce4 SLI Intel Edition is the first product out of the gates from NVIDIA for the Intel market. With SLI support, it’s clearly targeted at one market: high-end desktop PCs.