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Nvidia Readies Driver 'Big Bang' September, Brings OpenGL 3.0 and SLI Multi-monitor Support

Santa Clara (CA) - Nvidia is prepping a major driver release that the company is calling "Big Bang II." As one can expect from such a lofty name, the drivers bring several improvements including the latest OpenGL support and SLI with multiple monitors.

Big Bang II is codename for ForceWare Release 180 or R180. The biggest improvement is the introduction of SLI multi-monitor. Yes, you’ve read it correctly, Nvidia has finally allowed more than one monitor to use multiple video cards at once, something it’s been trying to do since SLI’s introduction back in 2004.

Owners of SLI systems should now celebrate, since R180 finally brings end to second monitor going dark after a 3D game was loaded. Given the fact that we work in multi-monitor environment, and for years our multi-monitor configurations with ATI CrossFire and Nvidia SLI were a pain in the a**. All that we can say is this feature was long overdue.

The second "big one" improvement is introduction of OpenGL 3.0 API, after almost a year in delays. OpenGL 3.0 brings updated hardware support for new technologies such as geometry shaders, texture arrays and other features introduced with DirectX 10 hardware. From our side, it is sad to see how OpenGL ended up. From a leading 3D API to API that is almost two years lagging behind hardware - these features were introduced with first DX10 GPU in November 2006.

The third "bang" is introduction of new SLI connectivity features. We were told that there is a possibility of mixing and matching Nvidia cards similar to what’s being done by AMD/ATI (3870 X2 + single 3870), but we’ll see if that means users can pair one 9800GX2 with one 9800GTX. When it comes to new hardware, expect to see support for new high-end and mainstream chips by Nvidia.

Moving on to video features, R180 supports 10-bit DisplayPort on Windows Vista, bringing DisplayPort up to color level offered by HDMI 1.3 - "billion colors" is marketing spiel for this one.

There’s also a GPU-accelerated video encoder, the PureVideo Transcoder. Companies like Elemental are bringing GPU-accelerated video transcoding to life and with Big Bang II, Nvidia will also debut a new codec library. This library promises at least a 10X encoding speed increase over quad-core processors, according to Nvidia.

Furthermore, Release 180 brings a set of performance optimizations for Quadro cards. Since new Quadro family is expected any week now, it is not surprising to see R180 focusing on improving performance of existing and future parts.

Nvidia is developing its drivers on quarterly basis and current roadmap calls for R(elease) 180 to be released around September timeframe, R185 will follow between December and February 2009, while R190 will follow anywhere between March 23 and May 20. R195 is scheduled for release between Jun 15 and August 14, while R200 "Big Bang III" drivers are expected to deliver a big one - DirectX 11.