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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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.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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