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NVIDIA vs. ATI Technologies: Where Can Driver “Optimization” Get You?

NVIDIA has been caught red-handed numerous times with its incorrect driver optimizations (by the way, the quality of the drivers themselves has degenerated). We discovered some visual artifacts in AquaMark3, too. First, we used the scandalous Detonator 45.23 and met some lighting problems. You can see them in the following screenshots.

Click a thumbnail for the high-resolution version

 

 


ATI, Catalyst 3.8

 
NVIDIA, Detonator 45.23

In the first screenshot we see the explosion of a submarine. The explosion illuminates the seabed. Unluckily, the reflections of the explosion that used to make the seabed so bright have been lost somehow with Detonator 45.23.

The second scene shows a play of sunlight beams on the seabed. It looks different on the graphics chips from ATI and NVIDIA, too. NVIDIA’s chip doesn’t eliminate the flares altogether, but makes them less bright and spectacular compared to what ATI’s chip renders.

Then, we noticed that game objects shed their shadows when Detonator 45.23 was used. Here is the evidence, in the screenshots:

Click a thumbnail for the high-resolution version

  

ATI, Catalyst 3.8

NVIDIA, Detonator 45.23

As you see, the submarine in the left picture casts a shadow, which conforms to the laws of optics. And there is no shadow in the right picture. Once again I have to admit new problems with an official version of NVIDIA’s Detonator and their inappropriate use with modern 3D games and applications.

The only Detonator to produce a correct image was the old official 44.03 version. Alas, the performance of the GeForce FX 5900, not mentioning the GeForce FX 5600 Ultra, dropped in half with this driver, to the level of the ATI RADEON 9600 PRO and lower. As for the new driver, ForceWare 52.16, we discovered no problems with lighting or shadows with it. The image quality with this driver was in fact identical to what Detonator 44.03 produced, so we don’t offer you the screenshots – they are the same. NVIDIA seems to have abandoned the bad habit of introducing “optimizations” for particular applications, but took to a sincere optimization of the shader code at large. Well, they have no other way. In order to ship competitive products, they have to re-design completely the architecture of their GPUs, but NVIDIA has no time for this – ATI Technologies has strong products here and now!

So, I recommend the owners of a GeForce FX based graphics card to install ForceWare 52.16 rather than Detonator 45.23, since the latter cannot provide appropriate image quality.

 
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