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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