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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  • helldrell666 - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Stick that fudzilla bench up in your.....
    Fudzilla is the number one nvidia troll site.Put aside, the fugglier nvidia sponored sites, like Hardocp, neoseeker, Driverheaven, Bjorn3d.................And you go on.

    Your one ugly fugly creataure.
  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, August 5, 2009 - link

    helldrell666 - then here's another long set of wins for the GTX275 against the 4890 - you can go tell johnjames on pg. 29 to stick all of them up his... since you're so "red" with embarrassment...">">">">">">">">">">">">

    There you go - now I'm sure every one of those sights is filled with green bias, huh , the worst kind...
  • mav3rick - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    ehehe.. he goes around name calling almost everyone a red rooster.. wonder if he sees himself as the green goblin? :D

    jokes aside.. seriously, why limit yourselves to just one camp?? why be fanboys? just get whatever card which give the most bang for your budget and also your needs. i started out with a Matrox G200 (eheh.. you can basically guess how 'young' i am). This was followed by the NVidia GeForce2 MX. The next upgrade was the Radeon 9500.. plus.. managed to unlock the 4 pipelines to make it the legendary 9700.. what more can you ask for. next came the X1800GTO, again managing to unlock 4 disabled pipelines and it became X1800XL. and before silicondoc calls me a red rooster.. lolz.. my current card is the 8800GT. real great buy with it oc capabilities and longevity..

    currently with the flurry of releases, i'm targeting either the GTX 260+ or the 1GB 4870 as i only have a 22" flat screen. Performance between both cards are comparable. the difference of a few framerates are barely noticeable.. so its down to pricing. Waiting now to see if there are any further reductions :p As for PhysX, it doesnt seem to have really taken off yet.. game developers are not stupid. if they wanna sell more copies, they will have to make sure it works on as many cards as possible.
  • SiliconDoc - Friday, April 24, 2009 - link

    Green Goblin, ahh... many that is ugly...
    Now, one problem with what you said - you definitely should note I don't call everyone a red rooster - just the liars - there are quite a few posts here that make fine points for ati that aren't steeped in bs up to their necks and over their heads.
    You should also note I make the proper POINTS when I post, that prove what is and has been said by this brainwashed crew of red rooster just isn't the truth, period.
    See that's the problem -
    I certainly don't mind one bit if the truth is told, but if you have to lie so often to keep your favorite looking good, well, that's just stupidity besides being dishonest.
    I've made quite a few points the in the box cluckers cannot effectively, fairly, or honestly counter - and the months and months of brainwashing won't unwind right away - but at least it's going into their noggins, and will eat away at the lies, little by little the small voice inside will spank their inner red stepchild into shape.
    Hey, I'm a helpful person. Reality should win.
  • tamalero - Thursday, April 9, 2009 - link

    dont forget the X800GTO2 that could unlock extra pipes to become X850XT
  • Jamahl - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    Oh wait lol no they aren't. If they were they wouldn't have a failing chipset side of their business and revenues down from 1.2bn to 480m in the last quarter.

    They don't have an x86 licence and intel are suing them. How bad do you have to be for intel to sue lol. Oh yeah, on intel - that reminds me, who was it that took the playstation away from Nvidia again? Seeing as we're talking about consoles now, how about we talk about the 50 million wii's sold with ATI graphics inside?

    Fusion is the party of the future and Nvidia aren't invited. To sum up, this desperate little company is going down the tubes and taking all of its clueless fanbois with it. It will be great in the near future when you are all forced to game on ATI graphics lol.
  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    January 2008 - and perhaps as bad or worse since then.
    " Without the charge, AMD came close to breaking even in the quarter, listing an operating loss of $9 million. Revenue for Q4 was $1.77 billion, up 8% sequentially and virtually flat compared to Q4 2006. The ATI write-down resulted in a total loss of $3.38 billion for the year, with total non-cash charges adding up to $2.0 billion. 2007 sales were $6.0 billion, up 6$ from 2006. "">
    That looks like ATI writedown was 3.38 billion - gee, 2 billion loss for one year.
    Oh well, they can crush nvidia with their tiny core vs nvidia's big core by dropping prices, right ?
    Thanks for nothing but lies, red roosters.
  • SiliconDoc - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    Oh and let's not forget the Dubai ownership portion of ati/amd.
    Not trusted for US ports by the American people, but fanboys love it anyway.
  • helldrell666 - Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - link

    Yes, whether you believe me or not, it's true.I had had much more driver problems with my 8800gtx than what i have had with my current 4870.

    As for the arabs, they don't own the company.AMD just bought part of it's manufacturing business to the arabic company,ALMUBSDALA.
    And to be more specific, AMD decided to share it's manufacturing business with another "foregin" company because it can't afford the manufacturing costs.

    I don't see anything wrong with that.But in case you don't know, i have to give you some informations about who owns what.
    Did you know that 2 russian "jewish" billionaires, "Naoom Birizofski and Jacob Trotski", own 79% of INTELs shares.

    Did you know that JEWs own all the major technological companies in the WEST. From IBM, Ford, Boeing, Le Stabrolle, ADIDAS, Mercedes, OPEL, NPD Petrochemicals ......

    Put aside the US Media, that is totally owned and controled by jewish businessmen..

    The whole western civilization in it's all glory is getting purchased by jews.So if you think that those Arabs will/have any kind of effect on anything, then your wrong.
    AMD was in big trouble and no other company offered any kind of help.AMD simply wasn't able to keep both it's manufacturing and designing business and make a revenue.
    Now, with their manufacturing business is getting fixed and grown, the company is definitely in a better state.As you know, or maybe don't, the global foundaries is expanding now by building two other fabs in NY and Malta.Beside, they fixed and did a lot to AMDs to fabs in Germany. so what AMd has done is establishing a new manufacturing
    entity, that will provide thousands of jobs for those great minds in both Europe and USA, and will compete efficiently with those Taiwanese manufacturing companies.

    But you, with your stupid little brain, can't recognize all think that your nvidia, that small little company with it's 5000 workers, is more important than anything else.

    What about competition?
    What about innovation?
    what about prices? Are you aware of what the state of the prices of gpu, cpus... or any other products would become without competition?

  • SiliconDoc - Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - link

    Here's the other thing, no matter how much you give your opinion on amd/ati, ati lost them billions, and nvidia, even though you pretend otherwise, actually "puts to work" more people than ati making and selling their gpu's, even if they don't have some holding corporation monster over the top of them, bleeding billions as well.
    So, you went into your love for amd, and I guess your love for ati, which according to you "saved the loser" called amd. Like I said, you're more fanboy than one could initially have surmised, and your bias is still bleeding out like mad, not to mention the crazy conspiracy talk.

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