Print 14 comment(s) - last by frank890.. on Mar 9 at 11:27 AM

NVIDIA currently offers various drivers for different hardware and operating systems. On the Windows OS alone, it offers 7 different drivers...

Last fall I heavily criticised ATI for not supporting their latest video cards in their latest drivers available shortly after the release of new hardware. I received a fair amount of criticism as there were quite some people who didn't agree with me. ATI told me that they ship a WHQL certified driver with those new cards that's newer than the monthly release so the whole thing shouldn't be a problem. Anyway, thats not the topic for today, as NVIDIA currently is in a far worse driver mess.

For several years now retrieving a driver for NVIDIA's video cards was fairly easy. You just wet to their website, selected download drivers, GeForce, the operating system and download, here you go. They always touted the ForceWare Unified Driver Architecture which basically meant that there is one driver for all GeForce cards. Until some months ago it didn't matter whether you still used a dusty old GeForce 2 MX or a shiny new GeForce 7950 GX2, you could install the latest ForceWare driver on any of these cards and all models in between.

In November 2006, enter GeForce 8. This new GPU changed quite a bit in terms of driver support for NVIDIA. Up to now, NVIDIA didn't manage to release a driver that supports both the old GeForce 2 - 7 series and the new GeForce 8 series cards (not counting their latest beta driver for Vista). They had to release separate driver releases for different hardware generations. This is where all the problems began.

In January 2007, enter Windows Vista. This new OS changed...familiar, eh? Basically NVIDIA was caught by the release of the new OS which introduces a new display driver model, as it was not able to provide a WHQL driver for all its products until now. Due to its new rather disunified driver architecture it had to develop separate drivers. It managed to release WHQL certified drivers for GeForce FX and GeForce 6/7 series. To my astonishment there are separate driver releases for GeForce FX and GeForce 6/7. On top of that, the GeForce FX drivers are not properly advertised in their download center. I only found them after stumbling over their Vista downloads site. For their latest GeForce 8 series though, all they have to offer is a beta driver release one day after Vistas official launch. This is the first driver to date that supports GeForce 8 cards and with GeForce 6/7 at least some previous generation cards.

In a grand total, this leaves us with no less than 7 different driver releases for the current Windows OSes XP and Vista, not counting 32-bit and 64-bit versions separately. You don't believe me? Here is the list:
  • ForceWare 93.71 WHQL (XP 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 2 - 7
  • ForceWare 93.81 Beta (XP 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 2 - 7
  • ForceWare 96.85 WHQL (Vista 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 5 - 7
  • ForceWare 97.46 WHQL (Vista 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 6/7
  • ForceWare 97.54 WHQL (Vista 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 6/7 [note: from nForce IGP package]
  • ForceWare 97.92 WHQL (XP 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 8
  • ForceWare 100.54 Beta (Vista 32-bit and 64-bit): GeForce 6 - 8
To cut a long matter short, NVIDIA's Vista drivers are a mess. I was somewhat surprised to find that their nForce 15.00G package contained even another graphics driver, although the 97.46 one would also support the IGP parts. Additionally their Vista drivers are far from complete. SLI for GeForce 6/7 is a no-go and quite a lot of other features are not implemented yet or are far from completed. NVIDIA lists those in the "Limitations in this release" section of their release notes. To their credit, they set up a site where users can report problems with their various Vista drivers.

This is not the first NVIDIA driver rant these days and certainly not the last. Word has it that NVIDIA is working heavily on a solution. They better do so quick, as a class action lawsuit was already filed against the company. Apart from that, NVIDIA may introduce monthly driver updates just like ATI does for a couple of years. I'm still sceptical whether monthly updates really provide a benefit over random updates when they are needed, but let's see what NVIDIA will do to fix that mess.

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The real problems...
By Aikouka on 2/12/2007 11:52:15 AM , Rating: 2
I'm not so sure if complaining about a multitude of drivers is really the best focus, Marcus. It seems for one driver, nVidia kept GeForce FX support and then dropped it from all following drivers (i.e. they let GeForce FX users run Vista. Although, I though the FX series was DX8, which means it can't run Aero (a DX9EX-coded program)). Although it is weird, it may be for the best. They could've just propagated the driver through-out the subsequent releases, but nothing would've changed and GeForce FX users would've been upgrading for no particular reason.

I'm not too sure why they split XP and Vista, although it could be for the file size? I'd personally prefer a split if it meant downloading 30mb rather than 60mb (although either are fairly small on a broadband connection). I do also see how this sways from nVidia's UAD concept (which has been largely admired for the longest time).

The real problem that you should be focusing on is just how bad the G80 drivers are. I don't think I've ever run a newer nVidia product and had such bugs last for such a long time. I couldn't play a game and run a video at the same time in XP and I still can't in Vista (on a 8800GTX). In fact, this completely freezes the PC... there went my hopes for Vista's new driver model ( that supposedly would help avoid hardware graphical crashes ) saving my PC from such problems.

I don't know if we'll ever see a stable G80 driver until G90 :O.

RE: The real problems...
By Tyler 86 on 2/12/2007 1:04:51 PM , Rating: 2
They split the driver packages between XP and Vista because it's possible to use the XP drivers on Vista (w/o Aero), and they didn't want the tech support headache associated with someone who somehow managed to do so.

Only the technically savvy who prefer the XP drivers for some reason (OpenGL issues, or what have you) that manually select the drivers in Vista (eg, someone familiar with the device manager and manual driver selection) who don't need support from nVidia to do what they want to do even attempt it.

Same deal with ATI's drivers.

nVidia's G80 drivers just suck though.

RE: The real problems...
By Marcus Pollice on 2/12/2007 6:48:57 PM , Rating: 5
Ok, maybe some of you guys missed my points a little bit. These are the main points I'm complaining about:
- different drivers for GeForce 2-7 and 8 on XP
- 4 different Vista drivers for various products
- lack of GeForce 8 WHQL driver for Vista
- lack of certain features in Vista drivers (refer to NVIDIAs release notes)

I never complained that there are different drivers for XP and Vista. Since Vista introduces the new WDDM driver model, its legitimate to have separated drivers. As already pointed out by another user, XPDM drivers can be used on Vista, but only for DirectX 9 features, no DX10 and no Aero.

Gaming on Vista - despite all the marketing behind that - is a rather bad idea at this point, even with ATI hardware (their Vista drivers are lacking features too, just for info). MS touts Vista as gaming OS, but imo its the opposite. But that'd be the topic for another blog...

RE: The real problems...
By Tyler 86 on 2/13/2007 5:46:53 AM , Rating: 2
Not too long ago, there were 3 different ways to do anything with ATI cards on Vista; Old XP driver, Official WHQL Suck driver, ASUS Fairly Complete Beta driver...

Just recently ATI released 7.1 Fairly Complete... it still has some issues, but hey, I'm able to use Crossfire on 2 X1900GTs and all the 'prettyness' of 8x AA + Adaptive, 16x AF, so I don't care much about the 10-30 FPS hit for Vista over XP, running steady at 70 fps minimum at high resolutions on high quality in all games..

I'm still using Vista RC 2, but plan to buy the Business version. I sincerely enjoy Vista at this point.
I can see down the line drivers for Vista providing equivelant or superior performance to XP drivers, especially in upcoming DX releases...

Microsoft OpenGL 1.4 is giving me the shaft, though.

That said, I'm glad I didn't have to deal with nVidia's driver clutter you mentioned.

RE: The real problems...
By Kiwi on 2/12/2007 2:03:25 PM , Rating: 2
I do remember the comparison between ATI and Chrysler, about great Engineering, and terrible follow-through. The Radeon 9700 should've been selling like a house afire, it was so much better than the GF4s, and then better than the FXes. But it's inaccurate to describe an FX as strictly a Dx8 product.

An FX contains a non-Microsoft Shader Procedure that is more complicated than SM 2 (Dx9c), and includes a workaround to do SM 2 using their SM-plus function, but it's so slow doing it, that the truth was that you could ignore the Dx9 aspect when it was shaders being used.

Within the context of nVidia making bad business decisions, the entire FX fiasco was a monumental disaster that they deserved to lose a fortune on, and somehow skated through it practically unscathed, and I never understood that. Maybe on this screwup, they'll either finally learn how things really work, or lose so much that the current management is ousted from power.

RE: The real problems...
By Aikouka on 2/12/2007 3:12:04 PM , Rating: 2
You're right about the DirectX 9 and GeForce FX. For some reason, I always attribute SM2 as being DirectX 8 (used 1.1 and 1.4) and SM3 as being DirectX 9, where SM3 is actually 9.0c.

Thanks for clearing that up.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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