Getting the Most Out Of Your Hardware: Video Card Utility Roundupby Ryan Smith on July 5, 2007 12:00 PM EST
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Although as a hardware site we here at AnandTech devote most of our focus to the features and performance of new hardware, in recent years the impact of software has grown to where in some cases the line between hardware and software has been heavily blurred. We already see this fairly regularly in the video card sector, where upwards of every single month a new driver comes out that has a notable impact on performance, or fixes some bug that was previously causing headaches for its users. As can be a painful lesson in the computer industry, hardware is as only good as the software it works with and much can change long after a piece of hardware is manufactured.
This is the first part in a series of articles taking a look at the software side of the performance/usability equation, as we hope to establish a guide for advanced/enthusiast users for what makes for good software and what software packages are critical towards getting the most out of your system. As an inherently subjective process we will not be awarding software like we do hardware - enthusiast-level software often is a smorgasbord of features that fails to neatly fall in to categories like hardware - but we will be identifying those notable software packages that are of best design and most use, and what strengths and weaknesses they may possess.
Starting off this series, we are taking a look at video card utilities for ATI and NVIDIA's product lines, dealing with both the first-party utilities included in the drivers along with the third-party utilities developed to replace or augment the first-party utilities. Both ATI and NVIDIA have taken flak in recent years for the significant revision of their respective utilities, as doing so has unarguably added bloat to software that's often used to increase the performance of a system and achieving the opposite of the desired goal in some cases. This has pushed several third-party utilities to a prominent position as they're equally or more capable than first-party utilities with only a fraction of the footprint.
This is not to say that first-party utilities are useless, but designed to meet the needs of basic users all the way up to advanced users, the usefulness of such utilities for advanced users is sometimes sacrificed to meet others needs. Overclocking, cooling, feature settings, performance tweaking, and stability testing are all important aspects for getting the most out of an enthusiast level video card, and some utilities are better than others at handling these needs. Unfortunately most video card utilities are tailored for one side or the other, complicating matters as a good utility for a GeForce card may not even be usable on a Radeon card and vice-versa.
In the next few pages, we'll take a look at the most popular utilities, what they work with, what they work best at, and what's still lacking. Getting the most of your system requires not just the right hardware, but the right software to go with it.