New Drivers From NVIDIA Change The Landscape

Today, NVIDIA will release it's new 185 series driver. This driver not only enables support for the GTX 275, but affects performance in parts across NVIDIA's lineup in a good number of games. We retested our NVIDIA cards with the 185 driver and saw some very interesting results. For example, take a look at before and after performance with Race Driver: GRID.

As we can clearly see, in the cards we tested, performance decreased at lower resolutions and increased at 2560x1600. This seemed to be the biggest example, but we saw flattened resolution scaling in most of the games we tested. This definitely could affect the competitiveness of the part depending on whether we are looking at low or high resolutions.

Some trade off was made to improve performance at ultra high resolutions at the expense of performance at lower resolutions. It could be a simple thing like creating more driver overhead (and more CPU limitation) to something much more complex. We haven't been told exactly what creates this situation though. With higher end hardware, this decision makes sense as resolutions lower than 2560x1600 tend to perform fine. 2560x1600 is more GPU limited and could benefit from a boost in most games.

Significantly different resolution scaling characteristics can be appealing to different users. An AMD card might look better at one resolution, while the NVIDIA card could come out on top with another. In general, we think these changes make sense, but it might be nicer if the driver automatically figured out what approach was best based on the hardware and resolution running (and thus didn't degrade performance at lower resolutions).

In addition to the performance changes, we see the addition of a new feature. In the past we've seen the addition of filtering techniques, optimizations, and even dynamic manipulation of geometry to the driver. Some features have stuck and some just faded away. One of the most popular additions to the driver was the ability to force Full Screen Antialiasing (FSAA) enabling smoother edges in games. This features was more important at a time when most games didn't have an in-game way to enable AA. The driver took over and implemented AA even on games that didn't offer an option to adjust it. Today the opposite is true and most games allow us to enable and adjust AA.

Now we have the ability to enable a feature, which isn't available natively in many games, that could either be loved or hated. You tell us which.

Introducing driver enabled Ambient Occlusion.

What is Ambient Occlusion you ask? Well, look into a corner or around trim or anywhere that looks concave in general. These areas will be a bit darker than the surrounding areas (depending on the depth and other factors), and NVIDIA has included a way to simulate this effect in it's 185 series driver. Here is an example of what AO can do:

Here's an example of what AO generally looks like in games:

This, as with other driver enabled features, significantly impacts performance and might not be able to run on all games or at all resolutions. Ambient Occlusion may be something some gamers like and some do not depending on the visual impact it has on a specific game or if performance remains acceptable. There are already games that make use of ambient occlusion, and some games that NVIDIA hasn't been able to implement AO on.

There are different methods to enable the rendering of an ambient occlusion effect, and NVIDIA implements a technique called Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion (HBAO for short). The advantage is that this method is likely very highly optimized to run well on NVIDIA hardware, but on the down side, developers limit the ultimate quality and technique used for AO if they leave it to NVIDIA to handle. On top of that, if a developer wants to guarantee that the feature work for everyone, they would need implement it themselves as AMD doesn't offer a parallel solution in their drivers (in spite of the fact that they are easily capable of running AO shaders).

We haven't done extensive testing with this feature yet, either looking for quality or performance. Only time will tell if this addition ends up being gimmicky or really hits home with gamers. And if more developers create games that natively support the feature we wouldn't even need the option. But it is always nice to have something new and unique to play around with, and we are happy to see NVIDIA pushing effects in games forward by all means possible even to the point of including effects like this in their driver.

In our opinion, lighting effects like this belong in engine and game code rather than the driver, but until that happens it's always great to have an alternative. We wouldn't think it a bad idea if AMD picked up on this and did it too, but whether it is more worth it to do this or spend that energy encouraging developers to adopt this and comparable techniques for more complex writing is totally up to AMD. And we wouldn't fault them either way.

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  • johnjames - Monday, May 18, 2009 - link

    I don't get it, I started reading this review and decided to get a 4890, then I read the following reviews:


    [url]http://www.driverheaven.net/reviews.php?reviewid=7...[/url]
    [url]http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/graphics/2009/04/...[/url]
    [url]http://www.bjorn3d.com/read.php?cID=1539&pageI...[/url]
    [url]http://www.dailytech.com/422009+Daily+Hardware+Rev...[/url]
    [url]http://www.guru3d.com/article/geforce-gtx-275-revi...[/url]
    [url]http://www.legitreviews.com/article/944/15/[/url]
    [url]http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/nvidia_3d_...[/url]
    [url]http://www.hardwarecanucks.com/forum/hardware-canu...[/url]
    [url]http://hothardware.com/Articles/NVIDIA-GeForce-GTX...[/url]
    [url]http://www.engadget.com/2009/04/02/nvidia-gtx-275-...[/url]
    [url]http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/nvidia_gtx...[/url]
    [url]http://www.pcper.com/article.php?aid=684&type=...[/url]

    And they all state the GTX 275 gives a lot more fps in all games bar Grid.
    Reply
  • genetix - Wednesday, September 23, 2009 - link

    This is actually really funny you mention multiple sites. Since it's pretty hard to find an site these days which actually doesn't review/preview without sponsors. Meaning lean to one side to other is pretty simplistic just need to review right games and voila either can win. Lol, looking ATI videos damn those are so well selected that damn.

    We are definedly getting back to 80s where games where made to GPU. Not to all. The funny thing is even our so trusted Benchmarks like any Futuremark production fakes the results of GPUs. Their so called ORB is pretty far from reality what the hardware is really capable.
    Reply
  • Asianman - Tuesday, June 16, 2009 - link

    most of those use either NV biased games or most likely didn't upgrade the 4890's drivers. All reviews show that 4890 loses its initial advantage at higher resolutions, and the fact that it is now much cheaper. Take your pick, you'd get good value either way. Reply
  • Patrick Wolf - Sunday, August 02, 2009 - link

    Well the 4890 isn't exactly kicking the 275's butt here.

    Let me break it down:
    Age of Conan: 0-3 fps difference. It's a wash
    CoD: WaW: 275 is at or above 60 fps on all resolutions, beats 4890 at 2560. 275 wins.
    Crysis Warhead: 0-2 fps difference. It's a wash.
    Fallout 3: 4890 wins.
    Far Cry 2: 0-2 fps difference. It's a wash.
    Left 4 Dead: Again, 275 is at or above 60 fps on all resolutions, beats 4890 at 2560. 275 wins.
    Grid: 4890 wins.

    That's 2 for nvidia, 2 for ATI. And on COD, Crysis, Far Cry, and L4D the 4890 wins at 1680 and 1920, then at 2560 the 275 suddenly pulls ahead? That's supposed to make sense? Not to mention both drivers used were beta. And the 185.65 drivers have been pulled from nvidia's archives.
    Reply
  • pinguw - Friday, April 17, 2009 - link

    yes, you said the one that is getting the benefit are the end user, but I think you have a short vision, because when things getting cheapper means we have more chance to get lower quality product. for example, the GTX260 that I bought several month a go, I can see that the image was worse than the 8800GTS that I had 2 years. At beggining I thought it was a defect so I changed other one and other brand and had the same result. so I say, instead of fighting for price, why dont they just make a better product?? lowering the price would just get our product worse and worse, like most of the product sold in US are now made in China... and then everybody are complaining about the product is bad... that is poisoned etc, what a joke what do you expect when the price go down? the answer is easy to get right? So I would suggest you stopping saing the one is getting the benefit are the users, what a brainless comment
    Reply
  • joeysfb - Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - link

    Something is not right here, are you linking the lowering of product quality to ficere competition???

    That's why people read reviews, comments from Neweggs, Amazons... to find out the user experience before buying a desired product...

    Almost everythings is made in china now...like it or not.
    Reply
  • 8KCABrett - Thursday, April 16, 2009 - link

    Those of us that buy the latest hardware to fly our flight sims have been pretty much left to using the outdated Tom's Hardware charts (which still show the 8800GTS being the fastest card around). I would love to know how the Q9650s and i7s are doing in FSX since the service packs, and it would be great to learn if the GTX 260/280s and now the refreshes are still slower than an 8800GTS in those sims. . .not to mention the abysmal performance of ATI cards! Has anyone found such a review anywhere?


    Reply
  • joeysfb - Friday, April 17, 2009 - link

    just stick to 8800GTS then (money saved)... besides there not many sim titles these days. Reply
  • BikeDude - Friday, April 17, 2009 - link

    Stick with the 8800GTS?

    I do not think you realize the problem. A year ago, FSX ate all the hardware you could throw at it.

    FSX is a very difficult animal to feed.

    It loves fast CPUs, but it also needs a fast GPU. Unfortunately, as was pointed out, there exists few recent comparisons. It is not easy figuring out the correct hw balance for FSX, since few includes it in a review.

    Comparing dozens of FPS games is pointless. They perform similar. There are some small differences, but to evaluate a given card, you don't have to review that many games. FSX however poses some unique challenges, and deserves some attention.

    Oh... I'd also like to know which of these cards will play nicely with HD video.
    Reply
  • 8KCABrett - Tuesday, April 21, 2009 - link

    Well, every now and then I like to have a little shooter fun, and the GTS is certainly lagging behind in the new titles.

    I'm currently beta testing a new sim and it really utilizes the GPU which is nice to see, but my 8800GTS limits me quite a lot, and it's also nicely multi-threaded. I decided it's time to update my system, and really have nothing to guide me. Is ATI still really weak in sims? Have the GTX 280s gotten any better with the recent drivers? What about SP2 in FSX? I just don't have any source of this info, and I've looked everywhere for a legit source.

    I've got a GTX 285 on the way and will just end up doing my own testing since that's apparently the only way to get the info.

    There are hundreds of review sites out there posting these same four or five titles in their benchmarks and not a single one that includes any of the flight sims, even the new releases. I know sims are a niche market, but flight simmers are left to test for themselves, and they use what is perhaps one of the more demanding titles out there! My complaint isn't directed at Anandtech per se, I favor this site and have seen and appreciated the helpfulness of Gary Key time and again, especially over at the Abit forums, I just wish that Anandtech could employ their testing discipline in titles that really do need a legit place to evaluate them. It could really be a benefit to many people that really aren't catered to at all currently.

    OK. . .back to lurking.
    Reply

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