Any piece of computer hardware is more or less useless without software drivers that allow it to work with the rest of the system. Anyone who has ever installed something like a webcam or some other obscure device knows that without the little disk or CD that comes with it, the device just won't work. Drivers for many devices are very easy to install and require little or no further tweaking, but not so with more complex hardware like graphics solutions.

A driver is code written to allow a piece of hardware such as a graphics card to be recognized and used by the system. For many computer peripherals, simply installing the driver is enough, but some parts require that the driver have an interface which allows users to tweak certain settings according to their needs. Both NVIDIA and ATI have unique driver interfaces, and it can be a bit confusing for those switching from one brand to the other with their graphics card upgrades. While both manufacturers have access to many of the same settings, finding a certain setting and navigating the interface can be more or less difficult with one than the other, depending partly on the experience of the user.

We've seen that in the past NVIDIA's ForceWare drivers have generally been better than ATI's Catalyst in the extent of their control over a wide range of graphical settings. However, ATI has been working to improve their drivers, and the Catalyst Control Center is an intuitive .NET based interface which is easy to use, and offers control over a wide range of settings as well. Naturally, users will have their own preferences, and while both have their positives and negatives, they each offer adequate control over most aspects of the drivers.

Initially, ATI's Catalyst Control Center suffered from some major performance problems which negatively affected usability despite the "new and improved" interface. Since its introduction, performance has gotten much better and the user interface refinements are better able to shine through without significantly annoying those who don't require the assistance of a real-time preview. It has taken a while for ATI's new UI to get to this point, and we are very interested in determining whether or not NVIDIA has learned from ATI's initially rocky attempt at completely redesigning their driver control panel.

For this article, we will be taking a look at the new 90 series video drivers from NVIDIA, specifically its user interface features and how they differ from the current version. The style has been changed significantly and looks to be more "Vista inspired" in its interface. This looks like it may cause problems for those used to NVIDIA's old style of navigation, but more on that later. For now, here is an overview of the 90 series Control Center by NVIDIA as well as screen shots and info on each of the menu sections and what settings are available under each.

Driver Menu
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  • unclebud - Monday, June 26, 2006 - link

    i can see that
    readily evident from the cookie cutter response i was given in return --
    must work in tech support to just ignore my problem and post a completely unusable solution like that. hmh
    i said ati doesn't make me install ANYTHING BUT THE DISPLAY DRIVER, unlike NVIDIA
    it didn't work either, the dvi port is still unrecognized by NVIDIA'S "DRIVERS". playing gta is even more choppy. thanks for nothing... :( i should have known better than to ask for help in here
  • mindless1 - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    I prefer the current/old CP UI too. Let's hope someone hacks it so the old CP can be used with the new drivers.
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, June 11, 2006 - link

    if it wasn't clear in the article, the old version can still be used, but is not by default.

    if nv follows ati, we won't have to worry about them ditching the old cp for a good while... but it still going to be a pain to switch back after every install.
  • amdwilliam1985 - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    does anyone knows the performance of the new series of drivers? i still cannot find a good driver that could beat my 77.77, btw i'm running 6600gt. i have tried some 80th series drivers, but they all gave me lower 3d05 and 06 scores. someone want to recommend a best driver for my 6600gt?
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    A lot of the driver updates address specific issues in specific games, so often there's not much point in upgrading. Of course, basing your decision on whether or not the drivers are better off of 3DMark is not generally a good way to go, unless you play 3DMark on a regular basis. You might want to look at our">NVIDIA Regression Testing article for some more information on which drivers to use. Basically, if you haven't encountered problems with any games using the 77.77 drivers (lucky number seven?), you might as well stick with them until you do.
  • unclebud - Friday, June 9, 2006 - link

    today i just bought a stupid bfg fuzion 6200 pci card and am having trouble just getting the bloatware that is nvidia installed!!! i don't need a stupid 21 mb ui running in the tray to play a game!!!
    i bought some x1600 pros from sapphire - windows xp asks for drivers - insert disc - boom! drivers installed... done
    windows xp found drivers for pny 5200/5500 pci AUTOMATICALLY, with NO need for a disc. done
    but now, eveyrtime i try to install the drivers that were downloaded from their buggy site -- or off of the disc, it wants to connect to the internet for "updated version" or some baloney
    blah nvidia... 3dfx must be turning over in their grave...
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 10, 2006 - link

    I have no idea what difficulties you're having, but it's pretty simple on NVIDIA cards: skip the Windows "new hardware" dialog, run the NVIDIA install, reboot and you're done. If that's not working, then most likely it's due to driver conflicts with whatever card you were using before. Try Driver Cleaner to fix that sort of thing.

    According to a couple test systems I have in front of me:
    NVIDIA 6800 GS SLI config:
    Athlon 64 3800+ 939
    2x512MB RAM

    nvsvc32.exe: 3300KB
    (Yes, I'm sure there is more memory used elsewhere that doesn't show up in task manager.)

    Right-click on desktop and select NVIDIA Control Panel, and it takes 3 seconds for the CP to appear.

    ATI X1600 Pro:
    Opteron 146 @ 2.8 GHz
    2x512MB RAM

    ati2evxx.exe: 2132KB
    ati2evxx.exe: 2860KB
    CLI.exe: 5088KB
    CLI.exe: 8512KB
    (The above comment also applies here: there is more memory used by the ATI drivers than is indicated in task manager. If not, what's happening that takes so long in the following test?)

    Right-click desktop and select ATI Catalyst Control Center; wait 11 seconds for it to appear, watch the screen flicker, and then once loaded the various pages still take a lot longer to display.

    Bottom line is that I find the ATI drivers to be far less responsive, they use more memory (hello .NET!), and of course the older NVIDIA control panel is still my preferred solution.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, June 9, 2006 - link

    This incarnation of NVIDIA's control panel places a cartoonish mask over a clunky and hard to use interface.

    If they were going for vista, they need to actually make it work like vista and not stop short at oversized icons. It's like they took the least useful part of vista and decided to grab on for dear life.

    This UI can be saved, but they need to go back to having fewer menus within menus (or at least bring some frequently used options closer to the top level). There are just too many clicks involved to get to the real options. And saving recent tasks is good, but its just not good enough.

    It's not even about saving time for those of us who need to navigate these settings all day every day (though that's a factor as well) -- its all about ease of use and intuitive design. This new control panel has neither.

    of course, that's all in my opinion :-)
  • Athlex - Friday, June 9, 2006 - link

    Exactly. Microsoft did the same thing to the Win2K interface when they cranked out XP. I think I lucked out by sticking with Windows 2000. Just installed a 7800GS and 90-series drivers in my machine and it appears to have the older-style control panel like the 80-series drivers.
  • One43637 - Friday, June 9, 2006 - link

    looks tacky to me. doesn't it seem like they just embedded the control panel into a MS window?


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