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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  • Hauk - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    Congrats ATI, the 4890 is a strong performer! So much chatter about what constitutes rebadging; at the end of the day it's performance that matters. 4890 does a great job for the money.

    The GTX 275 performs well but lacks excitement IMO. Nothing surprising or exciting; we've already seen a 240 shader enabled gpu on a 260 style interface (x2). If anything, the 285 receives strong competition from both 4890 and 275. Makes little sense to remain at it's price point. It's price should be $300.

    Times are tight. Cheers to competition...
    Reply
  • slickr - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    I can't believe how biased anandtech has become.
    I've checked all other review sites and in all the GTX275 was winning by a pretty big margin, here it actually looses to the HD4890.

    Now I'm not a fanboy for either, I've had 2 nvidia graphic cards and 2 ATI cards, the current one is ATI, but this bias thing can't go un-noticed.

    Some investigators must be summoned to deal with anandtech, this has been going for quite a while now.
    Reply
  • z3R0C00L - Friday, April 3, 2009 - link

    I see the difference.. those "other reviews" used the Catalyst 9.3 drivers.

    Anandtech, HardOCP and Firingsquad used the new 9.4 Beta drivers.

    No bias on Anandtech's part. Rather a bias from those other sites who used the new nVIDIA BETA driver but not the ATi one that has proper support for the 4890.
    Reply
  • B3an - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    I dont normally take notice of comments like this on here, but it does seem a little like it. It's as if NV have pissed off Anandtech with there dirty tactics (understandable), and Anandtech are being a little bias because of this. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    I've looked at three reviews (FiringSquad, THG, and HardOCP - also Xbitlabs, but they didn't have the GTX 275 in their results). I'm not quite sure what horribly biased and inaccurate results we're supposed to have, as most of the tests are quite similar to ours. Two sites - HardOCP and FiringSquad - essentially end up as a tie. THG favors the 275, at least at lower resolutions and without 4xAA, but then several of the games they test we didn't use, and vice versa. (The 4970 also beats the 275 there if you run 4xAA 2560x1600.)

    Obviously, we had a lengthy rant on CUDA and PhysX and discussed the usefulness of those features (conclusion: meh), but with all the marketing in that area it was something that was begging to be done. Pricing, availability, and drivers are still areas you need to look at, but it's really a very close race.

    If you have reviews that show very different results than what I'm seeing, post the name of the site rather than making vague claims like, "I've checked all other review sites and in all the GTX275 was winning by a pretty big margin, here it actually looses to the HD4890."
    Reply
  • SkullOne - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    That's different then what I've seen. I dunno what sites you visit but all of the ones I've been to show them just about neck and neck or the 4890 just edging out the 275.

    Personally I give the edge to the 4890 due to it's high overclockability.
    Reply
  • SkullOne - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    That's different then what I've seen. I dunno what sites you visit but all of the ones I've been to show them just about neck and neck or the 4890 just edging out the 275.

    Personally I give the edge to the 4890 due to it's high overclockability.
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    p=2 As we can clearly see, in the cards we *r*ested
    p=11 particles are one of the most difficult things to do on the CPU *thanks*

    Drivers? test table says 8.12 hotfix but we're at 9.3/9.4 now...
    Reply
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, April 2, 2009 - link

    First you say you aren't concerned about the 4890 being a rebadge because at the end of the day it's performance that matters, and then you said the GTX 275 lacks excitement because "we've already seen a 140 shader enabled gpu on a 260 style interface (x2)," whatever the significance of already seeing that is.

    Aren't these contradictory statements?
    Reply
  • SiliconDoc - Thursday, April 23, 2009 - link

    Of course it's contradictory, it's a red rooster statement. Then the 3m they use to just crank a few more mhz is the rework.. LOL
    Pay homage to the red and hate green and spew accordingly with as many lies as possible or you won't fit in here - been like that for quite some time. Be smug and arrogant about it, too, and never amdit your massive errors - that's how to do it.
    Make sure you whine about nvidia and say you hate them in as many ways as possible, as well - be absolutely insane mostly, that's what works - like screaming they can take down nvidia when the red rooster shop has been losing a billion a year on a billion in sales.
    Be an opposite man.
    Of course it's contradictory. Duhh.. they're insane man - they are GONERS.
    Reply

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