ATI vs NVIDIA: Driver performance under Win98 & Win2Kby Anand Lal Shimpi on February 20, 2001 12:00 PM EST
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Over the years manufacturers competing in this market have been made and broken based on quite possibly one of the most important features a new graphics chip can boast: drivers.
Back in the "early days" of competition in the 3D graphics market where Matrox, NVIDIA and S3 were still trying to make a name for themselves (ironically enough for the former two), drivers played a huge part in the success of their products. The Matrox G200 was ostracized because it shipped without a fully working OpenGL ICD and the Savage 3D/Savage 4 parts were both plagued with horrible driver support. It wasn't until NVIDIA got their act together with the Riva 128's drivers that they were taken seriously as well. Now, with only two competitors left, it is a necessity that we put their driver quality and performance issues up to the utmost scrutiny.
One of the most controversial topics when it comes to driver support is Windows 2000 support and performance. Microsoft's original intention for Windows 2000 was for it to be a professional/corporate-only Operating System, leaving Windows 98 and later, Windows ME for the home user. Unfortunately this strategy almost completely ignores a good portion of the market that happens to be quite a few AnandTech readers, the power user, or the hardware enthusiast. Microsoft made it very clear to the graphics manufacturers that Windows 2000 wasn't to be a gaming OS, however the users definitely found it very well suited to their needs.
The launch date of Windows 2000 came and went, with the best driver support for the OS coming from Matrox. Later on, 3dfx, ATI and NVIDIA took notice of the demand and put out driver sets that supported the new OS however very little could be said about the support. 3dfx's first Windows 2000 drivers were plagued with bugs and little could be said for the performance of the ATI and NVIDIA drivers either. The worst by far was the message that ATI had to send all Rage Fury MAXX owners when they demanded Windows 2000 drivers that read as follows:
You have previously contacted our Microsoft Windows 2000 feedback email address to comment or inquire about RAGE FURY MAXX drivers and support for the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system.
I regret to inform you that our plan to provide a RAGE FURY MAXX driver for the Windows 2000 operating system cannot be completed. Due to issues with enumerating the chip ID's, of the dual RAGE 128 PRO graphics chips, we are unable to complete the driver for our RAGE FURY MAXX card.
ATI sincerely apologizes for promising a driver to you and then being unable to complete it. This was an unforeseen technical issue during the development of the Windows 2000 RAGE FURY MAXX drivers.
For those customers who wish to contact me directly to comment on this situation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your comments and feedback
If you haven't gotten the hint by now, there were definitely some frustrations regarding the performance and reliability of graphics drivers under Windows 2000. The same frustrations carried over into the game developer market, as quite a few games simply would not work under Windows 2000. Even today, recently released titles such as EA Sport's NBA Live 2001 aren't fully supported under Windows 2000. Whether it's a combination of Microsoft's unwillingness to realize that there is a group of enthusiasts out there that do play games and want the robustness that Windows 2000 offers, or it's a lack of developer/manufacturer support for the platform as a gaming solution, it is clear that there is a problem.
Starting with our 3dfx Voodoo4 4500AGP Review, we began including a Windows 2000 Driver Performance section in all of our 3D graphics chip reviews. Reviews of the ATI Radeon SDR and NVIDIA's GeForce2 Pro followed, both including this new Windows 2000 Driver Performance section.
The results we found were definitely disappointing to say the least.