Performance and compatibility are always at the top of the list of topics addressed in each new graphics driver release, and our articles usually focus on performance. Over the past couple years we've seen user interface change quite a bit as well. Drivers have been growing in size and complexity a while now, and sometimes it is worthwhile to stop and take a look at where things are headed.

We haven't been hugely impressed with the UI direction either AMD or NVIDIA have taken. We've had quite a few conversations at AnandTech lamenting the loss of the simple driver interface embedded in the advanced display properties panel. It is desirable to enable novice users or the less technically inclined to understand and benefit from driver settings, but decisions on how best to enhance the graphics driver experience can't be taken lightly. It is in this spirit that NVIDIA contacted us about some options it is considering for the future direction of its driver.

For the past few years, the driver setting that has had the single heaviest impact on performance has been antialiasing. In the beginning, applications didn't include AA settings in games, but users were still able to benefit from the feature by enabling the option through the driver control panel. More recently, games have enabled users to set their desired level of antialiasing with in-game graphics settings. But sometimes a game will include a feature that won't allow traditional MSAA (multi-sample antialiasing) to work properly. We saw this very early in Halo, one of the first DX9 games. Later, titles that made use of floating point surfaces (often useful in HDR rendering) also excluded the option for MSAA. Today, while both NVIDIA and AMD have hardware out that can support MSAA on floating point surfaces, some developers are taking entirely different approaches to rendering which get in the way of the very concept of MSAA.

The questions we are going to ask are: how do/should we set AA, how should game developers handle AA, and how should graphics hardware makers address AA in their drivers? Before we get there, let's take a deeper look at some of the complexity associated with AA, in particular with NVIDIA hardware.

The Increasing Complexity of AA
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  • drayzen - Wednesday, July 11, 2007 - link

    Reading the article it occurred to me that basically what Nvidia are trying to achieve is to simplify the process for the und user.

    I thought that you could have an ordered list of driver features that would be progressively turned off based upon a target FPS rating. As for most people, when all is said and done they want a reasonable FPS with as much eye candy as is possible.

    It would basically function as a dynamic fallback system. Similar to the way that modern CPU's adjust their settings based upon load only here we are talking about rendering features rather than speed.

    It would be possible to have a basic and advanced version.

    The Basic version might look like:
    1> MipMap Detail Level
    2> Anisotropic Filtering
    3> Anti-Aliasing *Possibly with: (Method 'a'/'b')
    4> Vertical Sync

    While an Advanced version would be like:
    1> MipMap Low
    2> MipMap Medium
    3> Anisotropic Filtering 2X
    4> MipMap High
    5> Anisotropic Filtering 4X
    6> Anti-Aliasing 2X Method 'a'
    7> Anisotropic Filtering 8X
    6> Anti-Aliasing 2X Method 'b'
    8> .....

    - For both Basic and Advanced the user is able to change the order of the items in the list to keep the features they deem most iportant.
    - In the Basic version the driver would automatically fallback through the levels of a feature. e.g. for Anti-Aliasing: 4x('a') -> 4x('b') -> 2x('a') -> 2x('b')
    - In the Advanced settings the user is specifying the order of each individual setting so no fallback is required.

    The ability to log events would enable users to analyse their results and better tailor their settings.

    As far as notifications go, I guess you could have a tick box on each row as to whether a notification will appear for a status change on that feature.

    I'm not sure how well this would work as a system with current API's, maybe with DX10 where there are no more API's (correct?) it would be better, as some of the changes are not high speed dynamic changes and seem to require a restart of the video system.
    With some changes to programming I'm sure it could be achieved.
    Reply
  • instant - Wednesday, April 04, 2007 - link

    Coolbits + the normal display properties is all you need.

    Hopefully Nvidia will let those of us who hate their new display properties manager use the old one...

    Reply
  • Gherault - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    Why not initialize a profile dialog box when a program tries to go to use DirectX/OpenGL? You could use checkboxes for every time, first time, etc. located in driver settings- probably first time as a default. I hate opening the Nvidia profiles, but it if automatically popped up, and integrated the warning boxes/list of programs known not to function with MSAA (better if integrated directly into a profile) then I would love it. Manually wading through the profiles as-is stinks, therefore I do not use them AT ALL. If you wanted to experiment with performance by tweaking profiles you could set the checkbox to open the profile every time a program tried to go to use DirectX/OpenGL and play with the settings each time, until you found what you wanted, then "lock" the profile with a checkbox or whatnot that would cause it not to re-open automatically. Also... please don't force me to use the bloated interface that came about in the 90/100 series of drivers. I like the old control panel, and being able to see my GPU temp without having to load Ntune (which is incompatible with my PC- causes bluescreens constantly). Reply
  • DasFox - Monday, March 26, 2007 - link

    I don't see why this seems so complicated.

    I personally leave all Nvidia driver settings on default, and I use nHancer to enable game profiles, and when AnandTech said;

    "Profiles don't seem like the right fit"

    I guess they haven't used nHancer, because life in gaming with it, can't get any easier.

    Reply
  • mindless1 - Wednesday, March 21, 2007 - link

    I think I speak for a lot of users in that I am not wanting the popup box solution mentioned in the article, many people are so incredibly tired of popup messages. This is not a fault of nVidia, there are other companies that have worn out the popup box already. Reply
  • neofit26 - Tuesday, March 20, 2007 - link

    I am usually changing the AA setting from the driver's panel, since very few games have them in the interface. Now with nHancer it's even easier. I wish NVidia copied that interface into their drivers.

    And, unlike a previous poster said, nowadays more and more games do not allow AA to be used and even forced in the driver's panel. I am talking about Gothic 3, Vanguard, Silent Hunter 4 and Stalker apparently. And they don't give anything in exchange. Why would I choose a "David Thompson erotic photography" blurry bloom-like effect in a combat game, instead of non-jaggy lines?

    Anyway, for me the choice is simple: if forums say that the game has no AA and it cannot be forced through the driver panel - I don't buy it.
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Sunday, March 18, 2007 - link

    Obviously one of the concerns here is maintaining good support for older games: "...driver AA settings are a necessity for enabling the functionality on older games or current games..."

    Currently the 4:3 scaling option for widescreen monitors is broken for the Geforce 8 on WinXP. In the Nvidia control panel the option is called "Change flat panel scaling", and it simply doesn't work. Here's a forum post of others with the problem: http://forums.nvidia.com/lofiversion/index.php?t23...">http://forums.nvidia.com/lofiversion/index.php?t23...

    What is more important for image quality in games: AA settings, or not stretching 4:3 images to 16:10? Clearly the latter. Fix the basics first.

    Additionally, the Nvidia's nTune program is also broken, since it forgets your settings every time you reboot.
    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, March 19, 2007 - link

    The latest 100+ series beta drivers fix 1:1 scaling along with a host of other problems in XP. They're beta, but a helluva lot better than the 2 month+ old 97.92 WHQL. Pretty sure 100.65 WHQL fixed 1:1 in Vista, but not totally sure since I haven't made the move yet. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Monday, March 19, 2007 - link

    Oh, one other thing. You said 100-series drivers fixed 1:1 scaling in XP. Do they have 100-series for XP? http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_downloads_rel70b...">http://www.nzone.com/object/nzone_downloads_rel70b... Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Monday, March 19, 2007 - link

    Oh really, 100.65 fixes the scaling? Poster "thredge" on my link said "Was hoping the 100.65 newest driver I just got would solve it, but was again dissapointed." I haven't tried it since I assumed he was right. Reply

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