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Evolution of GeForce (ForceWare) Driver

First of all, I want to note the fact that Nvidia has changed the name of the driver from ForceWare into GeForce. I guess this only adds more confusion into the names of the cards and drivers but perhaps I just have to get used to that. When I began my tests in late November, Nvidia had released a number of beta versions and five official versions of drivers for the GeForce GTX 260 and 280 series. Four of the official versions are going to be covered in this review. I’ll describe each of them now.

GeForce 177.41 (June 26, 2008) is the second WHQL-certified release for the GTX 280/260 series. Why didn’t I take the first official version (numbered 177.35)? Because version 177.41 was released just nine days after version 177.35 and did not bring any significant changes. Here is the official change list:

  • Added support for GeForce GTX 280 and GeForce GTX 260 GPUs
  • Supports one GPU and Nvidia SLI technology in DirectX 9, DirectX 10 and OpenGL including 3-way SLI technology for GeForce GTX 280 and 260 GPUs
  • Added support for CUDA technology
  • Added support for the distributed computing system folding@home
  • Added support of HybridPower and Hybrid SLI for the following GPUs and mainboards:
    • GeForce GTX 280
    • GeForce GTX 260
    • nForce 780a SLI mainboards
    • nForce 750a SLI mainboards
  • Supports GPU overclocking and temperature monitoring if Nvidia System Tools are installed (small bugs have been corrected)

As you can see, the new (at that moment) driver was not declared to change anything in terms of performance. Besides the change list above, this drive corrected a few issues under Windows Vista x64, and that’s all.

GeForce 178.13 (September 25, 2008) is the third WHQL-certified driver for GeForce GTX 280/260 released after a long period of time (almost three months since the previous version, which is unusual for Nvidia). The following interesting changes could be noted:

  • Added support of Nvidia PhysX acceleration for all GeForce 8, 9 and 200 series GPUs with 256MB or more memory (PhysX version 8.09.04 is now packed together with the graphics card driver)
  • Added support of 2-way and 3-way SLI for the GeForce GTX 200 series on Intel D5400 XS mainboards
  • Increased performance in the following 3D applications for one GPU:
    • Up to 11% in 3DMark Vantage
    • Up to 11% in Assassin’s Creed (DX10)
    • Up to 15% in BioShock (DX10)
    • Up to 15% in Call of Duty 4
    • Up to 8% in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
  • Increased performance in the following 3D applications for 2-way SLI:
    • Up to 7% in BioShock (DX10)
    • Up to 10% in Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts (DX10)
    • Up to 12% in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
    • Up to 10% in World in Conflict (DX10)
  • Resolved various compatibility issues with 3D applications

The release notes also said that some bugs in games had been corrected for single GPUs and SLI configurations. According to user reports, this version of the GeForce driver is the most stable and problem-free.

GeForce 178.24 (October 15, 2008) was released in only 20 days since version 178.13 and had WHQL certification, too. There are a lot of changes in it despite the short period of time between the two releases. Here are the key games-related features:

  • Increased performance of one GPU in the following 3D applications:
    • Up to 11% in 3DMark Vantage
    • Up to 11% in Assassin’s Creed (DX10)
    • Up to 15% in BioShock (DX10)
    • Up to 15% in Call of Duty 4
    • Up to 8% in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
  • Increased performance in the following 3D applications for 2-way SLI:
    • Up to 7% in BioShock (DX10)
    • Up to 10% in Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts (DX10)
    • Up to 12% in Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
    • Up to 10% in World in Conflict (DX10)

You can note that the optimizations are identical to those in version 178.13. That’s not a typo because the official website says that the performance growth is calculated relative to beta version 178.19 which was released later than version 178.13. That’s an interesting thing. In fact, Nvidia increased the performance of its graphics cards in the mentioned games by the same value in two consequent driver releases. I mean, they claim to have increased it.

Besides the optimizations, the new driver corrected the operation of DVI-HDMI devices and Hybrid SLI mode and solved the bug with the menu of World in Conflict when using full-screen antialiasing on the GeForce 6600. Like with version 178.13, PhysX libraries version 8.09.04 were packed with this release.

GeForce 180.48 (November 19, 2008) is one of the latest certified GeForce drivers for Nvidia’s GPUs. Long anticipated and loudly touted by Nvidia, the new 180 series driver brings about ambitious performance improvements besides the traditional correction of errors. Here are the new capabilities:

  • Certification of Nvidia SLI technology on mainboards based on Intel’s X58 chipsets for GeForce GTX 280, GeForce GTX 260, GeForce 9800 GX2, GeForce 9800 GTX+ and GeForce 9800 GTX GPUs
  • Added the ability to use multiple monitors with SLI graphics cards in both desktop and 3D mode
  • PhysX technology provides for physics acceleration on GeForce 8, 9 and 200 series cards
  • Performance growth is declared for the following 3D applications:
    • Up to 10% in 3DMark Vantage
    • Up to 13% in Assassin's Creed
    • Up to 13% in BioShock
    • Up to 15% in Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
    • Up to 10% in Crysis Warhead
    • Up to 25% in Devil May Cry 4
    • Up to 38% in Far Cry 2
    • Up to 18% in Race Driver: GRID
    • Up to 80% in Lost Planet: Colonies
    • Up to 18% in World of Conflict

The 80% performance growth in Lost Planet: Colonies is especially impressive as if driver 180.48 accelerated the game from 100 to 180fps. There is a kind of disclaimer at the official website: the results may be different on specific configurations. So, you are not guaranteed to have the specified performance growth on your particular configuration. Anyway, the new driver claims to have very interesting features. You will see in the test section if they are really such. Right now let’s take a look at the testbed and testing methodology.

 
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