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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 performancefpsPercent
GeForce GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.393765.6100.0
GeForce GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.923832.5+1.8
GeForce GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92 CPU3.474090.6+6.7
GeForce 9600 GT (1024 MB) 175.162451.8100.0
GeForce 9600 GT (1024 MB) 177.922523.5+2.9
GeForce 9600 GT (1024 MB) 177.92 CPU3.472618.1+3.7
Radeon HD 4870 CF (512 MB) 8.63482.9100.0
Radeon HD 4870 CF (512 MB) 8.83515.6+0.9
Radeon HD 4870 CF (512 MB) 8.8 CPU3.473839.7+9.2
Radeon HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.63355.7100.0
Radeon HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.83378.3+0.7
Radeon HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8 CPU3.473615.5+7.0
  • pcgamer12
    Great article.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • curnel_D
    Lol.
    Reply
  • 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)
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • randomizer
    CryogenicAnalyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevantBut it can lead to the conclusion that current drivers are irrelevant, or rather less relevant.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply