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.

Index The Cards and The Test


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  • SiliconDoc - Friday, April 24, 2009 - link

    I agree but you'll never get that here since ati gets stomped in fs9 and fsx even more.
    This is red rooster ragers central - at the reviewer level for now.
    Put in the acelleration pack, and go for nvidia - the GT200 chips do well in FS9 - and dual is out for FSX so....
    A teenage friend just got a 9800GTX (evga egg) and is running ddr800 2 gigs with a 3.0 P4 HT, on a G35 Asrock and gets 25-30 fps in FSX on a 22" flat Acer with everything cranked.
    He oc'ed the cpu to 3.4 and pulled like 5 more frames per.
    That's what he wanted, very playable on ultra - on his former 8600GTS he couldn't even give it a go for fsx.
    However, moving up from 8800 I'm not certain what the gain is specifically. I've seen one or two reviews on HardOcp for fsx with a few cards. Try them.
  • 8KCABrett - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    Well, now that I've picked up a GTX 285SC, I've done some rudimentary benchmark comparisons between it and my 8800GTS in FSX and IL-2. I will add BlackShark results soon as well.">
  • SiliconDoc - Monday, June 22, 2009 - link

    Very interesting, and not a great increase - Tom's lists FSX benchies in most of his card charts - the 9800GTX+ is way up there(3rd I believe), as are some of the 8800 series.
    It's weird.
    The old HD2900 (pro even) does well with a good overclock - even the strange saphhire version which was 256 bit with 320 shaders - on a 25% oc it makes FSX quite playable. ( another friend on an E4500 w 4gigs/800).
    I saw the ati1950XTX at hard does pretty well - well the 1950GT does NOT.
    That 8800 chip is still - well, if not the best, still darn close.
  • lk7900 - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link

    Can you please die? Prefearbly by getting crushed to death, or by getting your face cut to shreds with a

    I hope that you get curb-stomped, f ucking retard

    Shut the *beep* up f aggot, before you get your face bashed in and cut
    to ribbons, and your throat slit.">

    I wish you a truly painful, bloody, gory, and agonizing death, *beep*
  • lk7900 - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link"> Reply
  • asq - Monday, April 13, 2009 - link

    My friend working for Anandtech and told me that ATI paying for articles good for them and in disadvantageous to Nvidia..what we can clearly see in that article.. Reply
  • lk7900 - Monday, April 27, 2009 - link

    Die of aids moron. Reply
  • SiliconDoc - Friday, April 24, 2009 - link

    Ahh, yeah well people have to get paid.
    It's nice to see the reaction there from the red rooster though, huh - cheering it on while he spews his brainwashed communist-like hatred of nvidia.
    It's amazing.
    Good for you noticing, though.
  • joeysfb - Tuesday, April 28, 2009 - link

    I don't hate Nvidia. I own 5 nvidia cards and 1 ati card. I m buying what gives me the best value. To me, its ATI for now. I think AnandTech did a good job reporting on matter the happens behind the scene. They just report it and it up to individual to form their own thoughts.

    You obviously only buy Nvidia which is good... no fuss on deciding on what to get next!! hahaha....
  • SiliconDoc - Monday, June 22, 2009 - link

    Well incorrect entirely. They didn't do a good job reporting on behind the scenes, because they left out the ATI prodding and payment parts.
    Furthermore, ati is still in a world of hurt losing billions in consecutive years.
    See, that's what really happened. ATI fell off the gaming fps wagon, and only recently got their act back together. They shouldn't be praised, they should be insulted for blowing competition for so long.
    If you're going to praise them, praise them for losing 33% on every card they sell, in order to have that 5-10 dollar pricepoint advantage, because if ati were to JUST BREAK EVEN, they'ed have to raise all their gaming cards prices about $75 EACH.
    So they're losing a billion a year... by destroying themselves.
    Nvidia has made a profit all along, however. I think the last quarter they had a tiny downturn - while ati was still bleeding to death.
    PRAY that Obama and crew has given or will give ati a couple billion in everyone else's tax money and inflation for everyone printed out of thin air dollars, to save them. You better so, or for a multi-billion dollar sugar daddy corporateer.

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