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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  • chizow - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    Such a headache over a feature that should be streamlined and integrated. Sums up the nature of PC gaming though really. Not enough standards and guidelines, so there's no consistency.

    Not sure what the best approach would be, but from an end-user standpoint, I'd like to see a dedicated GUI similar to the 3D model in control panel that allows you to adjust image quality settings. Only I'd like to see it reflect actual game performance and available AA settings for any particular game.

    I don't know if NV is willing to undertake that level of support, but it would certainly make it easier for the end-user. Either have pre-configured .inf-like profiles for games or the ability to scan and assess games on any given machine and demo/benchmark them.

    Maybe the easiest implementation would be a timedemo of sorts. Like you could enable NV CP to run a game in stress test mode where it would just cycle through the different AA settings while you're playing the game, then report a summary of relative image quality and performance. Its not perfect of course, but right now testing is either subjective or a huge PITA.

    I'd love to see something like setting a target FPS and then allowing the drivers to enable the highest level of AA that still meets that target FPS. Right now the only way to really do that is to run a lot of tests (or reference reviews) and spend a lot of time changing settings, which takes time away from what you should be doing: playing and enjoying the game.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    couldn't nvidia just provide profiles with some settings set for games? if theres a game that doesn't support something, then have that feature dissabled.

    bf2 which i play alot, I sett AA in game to 4x (though wish it could go futher),

    and then set transaperancy AA in the driver game profile, because the game has no optition for it.
    Reply
  • soydios - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    I really wouldn't mind having a user-customizable performance profile in the graphics driver for each game. It would give me more control over the game, which I never complain about. For instance, I sometimes use ATi CCC to enable antialiasing in older games, but then I have to delve back into the driver to change it to "Application Preference" when I boot up BF2 or other newer games. It would be far more convenient for me if the driver would automatically load that game's profile when I start the game. The profile should include 3D settings for sure, and maybe color, brightness, even overclocks. Reply
  • poohbear - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    i personally set my AA setting to "let the application decide" in the CCC for my x1900xt and in game i usually choose 4x or the "AA high" option. most games allow u to specifiy how much AA to use, so that's fabulous, otherwise if a game doesnt have AA entirely then i force it through CCC. It's kinda annoying, but MOST games support it so i hardly ever have to worry about forcing it through CCC. :) Reply
  • nefariouscaine - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    I also use modded drivers most of the time that include the coolbits reg hack in them from the start Reply
  • nefariouscaine - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    well, I myself when it comes to such settings usually play the hit or miss game on each app I use. 9 outta 10 times I tweak out the AA settings in the drivers as a number of games don't go up to 8x AA but drivers do as well as have "forced" multisampling and super-sampling options as well.

    I've not really had too many issues involving this but more so in enabling AF in the drivers. This caused me many a crash in BF2 until I figured it out. It would be great to see more developers including higher level advanced options for graphics in games as the level of hardware continues to increase. I'm a firm believer that hardware shouldn't be bottle necked by the software its running (i'm talking games). There aren't too many games out that tax a 8800GTX and I'd love to see that happen, soon...

    I say make some warings that pop up when you enable such changes - that might help some but won't be perfect. I'm happy with the layout of the "classic" nvidia drivers settings but the new gets a big thumbs down from me as its too clumsy to find the advanced settings.
    Reply
  • munky - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    Modern games not supporting AA are a minority, and I don't see a reason to disable driver-override AA settings. Reply
  • DigitalFreak - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    If it's available, I always use in-game AA settings. However, games that have this option are few and far between. Considering how poor Nvidia's driver update schedule has been the last 6 months for anything other than Vista/8800 series, I think Coolbits is the way to go.

    Reply
  • VIAN - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    I hate to be bothered to constantly going into the control panel and changing the settings. So I usually leave the control panel to the highest quality settings, but leave AA, AF, and Vsync as an application preference.

    I love to use in-game settings to set these. I won't go into the control panel unless I really feel the need to in a game that doesn't support it. Because I also anticipate compatibility issues when forcing something the game doesn't support, I seldom go into the control panel and acknowledge it as a limitation of the game.
    Reply
  • mostlyprudent - Thursday, March 15, 2007 - link

    I am at best a casual gamer. It has been quite sometime since I tweeked driver settings. However, I have been unhappy with the limitations of in-game settings in several games. If I had the time, I would dig deeper into driver settings to maximize the gaming experience and I think it would be a mistake to limit users to the settings provided by the developer.

    I don't think there is a problem with having a complicated driver structure (from the user's perspective) as long as there is a relatively simple set of settings adjustments in the game. Those who want more control will have to pay the price of a steep learning curve - as long as there is a good payoff in the end.

    Basically, I don't really have a preference as to the approach the driver developer takes as long as it doesn't eliminate the ability to tweek.
    Reply

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