Do New Drivers Really Boost Performance?

Summary Of Performance Differences

The summary shows all the performance differences sorted by benchmark and percentage. The following table shows the effect of an update of the graphics driver. Orange indicates values within the measurement tolerance, green is a gain of 3.1 percent or more, and red is a loss of more than 3 percent.

The GeForce 9600 GT gains the most from driver optimizations. The GTX 280 and CrossFire HD 4870 may lose a little performance, and with the HD 4870 running alone, only Crysis in High image quality mode gains from the new driver.

The next table shows the potential of the test cards when the CPU clock rate is increased. Orange indicates values within the measurement tolerance, green is a gain of at least 3.1 percent, and red is a loss of more than 3 percent.

The GeForce 9600 GT benefited only slightly from the CPU clock speed increase; the GTX 280 and HD 4870 made good gains in some of the games. In CrossFire, the CPU performance was gobbled up as the paired HD 4870s could handle even more CPU power. In Mass Effect and Call of Duty 4 there was hardly any performance increase.

The effects on overall performance are more sobering. The driver optimizations make a difference of just 0.7 percent to 2.9 percent in frame rates. The additional CPU clocking results in a 9.2 percent improvement in CrossFire mode.

For each test card there is a comparison value as measured with an old driver. This overall result represents 100 percent. The performance gain due to the driver update is specified as a percentage—for the GeForce GTX 280 this is 1.8 percent additional power. When the test is carried out with the overclocked CPU at 3.47 GHz (+532 MHz), the frame rate for the GTX 280 increases another 6.7 percent.

Overall performance fps Percent
GeForce GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.39 3765.6 100.0
GeForce GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 3832.5 +1.8
GeForce GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 CPU3.47 4090.6 +6.7
GeForce 9600 GT (1024 MB) 175.16 2451.8 100.0
GeForce 9600 GT (1024 MB) 177.92 2523.5 +2.9
GeForce 9600 GT (1024 MB) 177.92 CPU3.47 2618.1 +3.7
Radeon HD 4870 CF (512 MB) 8.6 3482.9 100.0
Radeon HD 4870 CF (512 MB) 8.8 3515.6 +0.9
Radeon HD 4870 CF (512 MB) 8.8 CPU3.47 3839.7 +9.2
Radeon HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.6 3355.7 100.0
Radeon HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8 3378.3 +0.7
Radeon HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8 CPU3.47 3615.5 +7.0

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    Top Comments
  • cangelini
    LedrosTo bad you used 8.8 drivers instead of the 8.9 ones. Real smart people.


    This is observed in the piece and should not affect performance.
    18
  • Other Comments
  • pcgamer12
    Great article.
    5
  • cangelini
    LedrosTo bad you used 8.8 drivers instead of the 8.9 ones. Real smart people.


    This is observed in the piece and should not affect performance.
    18
  • curnel_D
    Lol.
    0
  • neiroatopelcc
    SoulLance"Unfortunately for AMD and its customers, the PowerPlay optimization for energy-efficient 2D operation is not included in the Catalyst 8.8 driver for the Radeon HD 4870. Quake Wars refuses to start using the Catalyst 8.8, but it works fine with the Catalyst 8.6 and 8.7."But neither should comments like this appear when everyone on the planet reads a labels that clearly say "Use latest drivers from manufacturer".


    Can you please translate this into english?
    I have no idea what you mean to say with your comment, other than the obvious (that you disagree on some level with the article)
    1
  • randomizer
    He's saying you shouldn't criticise newer drivers because most hardware and software packaging has a label, or a section in the manual, telling you to use the latest drivers. So latest = best as far as he is concerned.
    7
  • Anonymous
    In reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.
    0
  • neiroatopelcc
    SneppyIn reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.

    Having had experience with two failing xfx cards (both 8800gtx's actually), I've got to warn you though, that their warranty is a bit fictional. While they may actually cover broken products, you can easily risk waiting months for a replacement.
    Proof of my claim in case someone unexpectedly doubts it : http://www.opel.cc/xfx8800gtx/xfx.htm
    That was the first failing card. The second I haven't even bothered sending in, and just bought an 4870 instead of waiting months.
    3
  • cryogenic
    We all know there were cases in the past when "Newer drivers provided substantial performance improvements" in various applications or games. Analyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant, or that from a "professional" stand point the latest drivers shouldn't be chosen.
    -2
  • randomizer
    CryogenicAnalyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant

    But it can lead to the conclusion that current drivers are irrelevant, or rather less relevant.
    0
  • cryogenic
    randomizer


    That's a good,true and useful conclusion, but it's not a general one, only specific to this particular set of drivers.
    1
  • warezme
    according to that chart two 8800GTX's is faster than a single 280GTX and Two 4870's in CF.??? 18005 as opposed to 16422 for their fastest run on 3Dmark06 @1280x1024 default settings. I thought their game scores where kind of low to. Must be a dual core CPU making the difference.
    1
  • Anonymous
    When the Q3 08 Vga charts appeared, there where lots of critics to the fact that the ATI drivers used where 8.6. Maybe this article is some kind of response to those critics. Well, the results of the tests here "almost, "kinda", say that Q3 benchmarks are fair enough with new-gen ATI cards. But... profesionally speaking, did Tom's knew THEN -back when the Q3 benchmarks where made- that that will be the case? That drivers released before the new cards did, didn't keep those cards from showing some better numbers? If 8.7 or 8.8 show almost the same numbers 8.6 do, is irrelevant. We can know that only now, that there are avaiable tests that actually show those results. But how can we, nor Tom's, or anybody knew that THEN? So, you must admit at least that if you are benchmarking a card using drivers dated BEFORE the card was launched, that there is a "chance" that results may actually vary with recent drivers. And if its true that performance boost in newest drivers are not "that important" to compare with the gap between diferent card generations, is true also that you can't(and in fact you don't) use 6, 12 or 18 months old drivers on current hardware. So maybe not "that important", but "important" nonetheless.
    0
  • neiroatopelcc
    CryogenicWe all know there were cases in the past when "Newer drivers provided substantial performance improvements" in various applications or games. Analyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant, or that from a "professional" stand point the latest drivers shouldn't be chosen.


    Where's it say drivers are irrelevant?
    What the article states, is that you don't nessecarily gain performance by using current drivers. It doesn't mean the bug fixes and 'futureproofing' with regarding to unreleased games isn't relevant.

    The article merely deals with the urban legend claiming new drivers unconditionally improve hardware performance.
    2
  • neiroatopelcc
    @ alfguy - the article does state that drivers released within roughly the first 3 months after the hardware is released is more likely to improve the hardware's peformance, but that it doesn't nessecarily improve older hardware's. That's pretty much the same point you're making I believe?

    ps. catalyst 8.6 is the version shipped with my 4870 - so it's not dated before the cards, it's merely the initial retail version.
    1
  • JPForums
    Overall, this was a good article. I've seen driver updates on past hardware that netted more significant FPS improvements than is show here, but the time frame for optimizations is consistent with the article introduction. Also consistent with the article is the fact that the larger improvements don't usually occur on the high end cards.

    Disclaimer: This is not a fault in the article, just speculation on one of the results.

    Referring to the Crysis Very High setting on the Radeon 4870:

    Quote:
    In the Very High setting, fluctuations of the frame rates can also be seen. There does not appear to be any reason for these variations, although a performance increase is almost always seen.


    It appears 1280x1024 is cpu limited, as you see a fair FPS improvement at this resolution (and not others) when overclocking.
    Moving to 1680x1050, you see more significant improvements as the burden has shifted back towards the GPU, allowing the enhancements to be seen.
    At 1920x1200, we are simply reaching the limits of the hardware, so the enhancements are less relevant.

    It seems one of the enhancements affect AA performance in Crysis as it seems to be improved across the board. I'll leave you to figure out the rest, as I'm short on time, but I'd wager the enhancements involve trading more efficient processing of data on the video card for more driver overhead. This would explain why more CPU limit settings are seeing lower rates, while more GPU intense settings are seeing benefits. The only real oddball is 1680x1050 at high, but I'll bet with a little time, it could be explained as well.

    On another note: Did the Catalyst 8.8 improve performance over Catalyst 8.6 in CF mode when both were overclocked. I suspect the answer is no, but it seems there may be more CPU overhead in the newer drivers. Given more CPU cycles, an insignificant, but measurable improvement may be measured. (My interest in this is purely academic as I don't own a newer ATI card at the moment)

    That said, I'd be interested in a similar article with mid/high end video cards and a mid/high end processor. What kind of real performance improvement (or lack there of) can someone with a GeForce 8800GT or Radeon 4850 expect with paired with an Athlon X2 6400+ or a Core 2 Quad Q6600 (without overclocking).
    0
  • CanadaKen
    I wish someone could explain why ATI/AMD cards can't run Microsoft FlighSim X as well as Nvidia cards. The specs are there but the performance sucks?!
    0
  • neiroatopelcc
    @ CanadaKen : I can only guess, but flightsim is very dependant on the cpu. I'm guessing the ati drivers need more cpu time to do well in comparison to the nvidia one, thus the nvidia card works better with limited cpu ressources. It could also be possible that microsoft has been utilizing some features that run better on nvidia cards as opposed to amd/ati.

    As the monthly graphics roundup has been telling us for the last past months, which highend card you should choose (4870, 260 or the dual gpu nvidia one) depends on the gaming titles you expect to use it on, as they're not delivering the same performance in all games. Some are sponsored by nvidia and more often than not those games run better on nvidia hardware, even if it's slower in a raw shader processing power value. The opposite is probably true with games where ati has had their hands on the graphics engine though I can't at the top of my head remember any.
    0
  • zodiacfml
    newer drivers is important to solve issues. but it becomes irrelevant to improve a game performing more than 30 or 60 frames per second.
    of course, exception is crysis wherein additional of, like 5 frames can help in all resolutions and little fps difference there can be worth debating.
    anyways, this an article many of us waiting for. high end crossfire/sli does have the least value. crysis is the only game could benefit from high end hardware video card to processor.
    0
  • dagger
    The myth that new drivers drastically improve performance is made up by fanboys to discredit benchmarks that show their favorite cards don't perform as well as competition. It's nothing more than an excuse, against valid benchmark results.

    Some drivers do improve performance, just not nearly enough to make a noticeable difference.
    4
  • Aragorn
    Since 8.7 did so well in the few tests it was used in I'd love to see the results of running it through the whole test suite.
    0