Already we’ve seen DirectX 10 games like Lost Planet, Company of Heroes, and BioShock debut this summer, but it’s the next crop of games that has everyone really excited. Titles like Crysis, Hellgate: London, Unreal Tournament 3 and Gears of War PC all look stunning and have many gamers pondering whether it’s finally worth taking the plunge on Vista and DirectX 10. But before these games can be enjoyed in their full DX10 glory, it’s going to be critical that all gamers who want to enjoy the full experience from these games not only has the proper hardware in place, but software (i.e. drivers and hotfixes/patches) is going to be critical as well. If the graphics driver and surrounding software isn’t up to date, all the graphical eye candy present in these upcoming games will basically be useless.
Now more than ever, it’s critical that the graphics driver is up to snuff, particularly if you own one of the newer, next-generation DX10 graphics cards.
With that being said, it has been over seven months since we last took a look at Windows Vista performance versus Windows XP. In that series of articles we found that both AMD and NVIDIA’s Vista performance was lacking in comparison to Windows XP, although NVIDIA’s showing in Vista was much worse: Vista performance was in some cases substantially slower than Windows XP, features were missing, and SLI was unsupported entirely. Meanwhile, AMD’s biggest problem was the OpenGL portion of their Vista driver, OpenGL-based games like Quake 4 scaled poorly in performance in comparison to WinXP and we encountered numerous visual artifacts. CrossFire support was also limited.
As you can imagine, in the span of the past seven months quite a bit has changed on the Vista driver front and we’ve received quite a few emails asking us to revisit the topic. In fact, right after posting our first BioShock article, the Windows XP versus Vista requests streamed in; we received a few more requests after publishing our Quake Wars story as well.
Then, just last Friday, NVIDIA briefed us on a new driver they were putting the finishing touches on that was meant to improve their Vista performance in single-card and SLI. This driver was ultimately released just a few days ago in the form of ForceWare 163.69. Are immature Vista drivers still an issue for AMD and NVIDIA? That’s what we’re here today to examine!
Looking over the release highlights for Catalyst 7.9 and ForceWare 163.69, you can see that both AMD and NVIDIA have made numerous improvements in their latest drivers. Catalyst 7.9 lists performance improvements for Radeon HD 2000 series cards in numerous games, and even a few performance enhancements for older Radeon 1000 series cards, while one new feature has been added to the driver: color temperature control. The driver also fixes visual glitches with BioShock and Lost Planet (among other games).
NVIDIA’s release highlights for ForceWare 163.69 is a little more cryptic, only mentioning “Improved compatibility for The Way It’s Meant To Be Played™ game titles: BioShock, Crysis, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, Hellgate: London, and World in Conflict” as well as “Improved compatibility and performance for NVIDIA SLI™ technology on Microsoft® DirectX® 9.0c and OpenGL® 2.1 applications.” However, the new driver goes much further than that.
One undocumented issue that has been fixed in ForceWare 163.69 is the random slowdown bug that affected GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB cards. As a result of the bug, in some cases performance would suddenly drop dramatically. Users would have to alt-tab out and then back into the game (clearing the card’s video memory) to resolve this issue.
ForceWare 163.69 fixes this issue, so gamers with GeForce 8800 GTS 320MB cards who have encountered this issue will definitely want to give the new driver a try.
And for those of you running Windows XP who are holding out for WHQL-certified drivers, we’ve been told that a ForceWare 163.7x driver will be released sometime next week.