It is no secret that performance in contemporary games depends not only on the hardware, but also on the software components. Today’s graphics accelerators are, in fact, none other but a set of unified computational units combined with texture and raster processors, so driver quality matters a lot. It is especially critical for dual-chip cards and discrete multi-GPU systems that are extremely sensitive to the software support. Not so long ago we all often came across situations when graphics card performance in a certain games would double or increase even more only due to a new driver installed.
Graphics chip developers release intermediate driver versions from time to time in order to fix some critical performance issues in certain games. And if Nvidia simply posts another GeForce driver version that may or may not have the WHQL index, ATI often creates a lot of confusion. They offer users so called “hotfix” updates that don’t have the base driver version number assigned to them. The thing is that ATI releases new drivers according to a very strict schedule: 12 times a year, once every month. Therefore, the Catalyst version number always refers to the release date: 8.12, for instance, stands for December version of 2008. As a result, they have to resort to the above described trick if they need to release a new driver in-between the release dates.
It may be very confusing to those users who do not see the need in installing an ATI Catalyst “hotfix”, which, however, may have a serious effect on gaming performance and fix certain image quality or CrossFireX technology issues. The last one was ATI Catalyst 8.12 hotfix that has been just replaced with the first driver version of the new year 2009 – Catalyst 9.1. We decided to run an express test session in order to compare the results obtained with Catalyst 8.12, 8.12 hotfix and 9.1. Our today’s tests should help us determine which of the three versions provides the best performance and if those of you who have already installed the latest “hotfix” still need to update the driver with the latest version. We chose four popular games and a well-known 3DMark Vantage suite for our today’s performance check.