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.

ATI Catalyst Control Center
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  • Wwhat - Saturday, July 07, 2007 - link

    Unfortunately MS forced people to get obscure updates you had to search for, that installed lots of DRM(-updates) for DXVA to work and have 'purevideo' enabled in many common utilities like WMP.
    And vista has its share of such pain too I understand due to it being thick with DRM, if anything is not 100% in line with MS's demands (or should I say sony/WB's?) it will simply not work right, often without much notification.
    Reply
  • xsilver - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    i know ati tool works for both nvidia and ati but what about the rest?

    also
    "and individual cards cost up to $900, what is another half-million spent on making a new utility to go with said GPUs?"

    this comment was particularly funny - i doubt these 3rd party tools were made with anywhere near that $$$
    Reply
  • gigahertz20 - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    *Takes out bat and hits xsilver in head*
    *THONK!!!!*


    Duh, he was talking about the companies you idiot. None of these 3rd party applications have a budget of anything!!!. They are completely free.
    Reply
  • xsilver - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    yes exactly -
    you misunderstood what I wrote

    what it takes 3rd party makers a few thousand dollars (ok maybe more)
    it takes nvidia and ati half a million.

    thats funny no?
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    It's just a really simple estimate, don't think too hard on it. I'm figuring NV would need 3 full time people (2 programmers, 1 QA), and various fractions of management and engineering resources to get the job done. By the virtue of being a company, NV immediately encounters costs that a single guy working in his spare time doesn't have, but it also means that NV could build a better utility since they know the hardware inside and out(at the cost of making the whole thing slightly more expensive to develop). Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, July 06, 2007 - link

    They probably need more resources than that, especially just to get drivers signed off by Microsoft... Reply
  • gigahertz20 - Thursday, July 05, 2007 - link

    Enjoyed this article, it's amazing to think these big companies cannot produce utilites for their very own video cards that can beat out 3rd-party applications. They create these complex million line code drivers, but yet that can't create an application that will let you overclock your video card and test it out like ATITool does? It would be nice to have one driver by each company (AMD and Nvidia) that let's you perform all tweaks 3rd party apps let you do and don't consume lots of hard drive space and memory....and it should have an easy to use intuitive iPhone like interface....

    The perfect AMD or Nvidia driver, small size, lots of features, consumes little system resources, intuitive interface = perfect

    That's why uTorrent is one of the most popular torrent clients, the programmers for these large corportations need to get with it!
    Reply

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