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Do New Drivers Really Boost Performance?

Comparing Chips And Configurations

Nvidia has revised the name of its graphics driver to reflect another round of confusing marketing (we weren’t particularly impressed with the naming of its newest mobile GPUs in our high-end notebook roundup). ForceWare has become GeForce. Anyone unfamiliar with the naming conventions will have trouble telling the difference between hardware GeForce GTX 280 and software GeForce 177.92.

ChipCode nameMemoryGPU rateShaderMemory rateSPs
GeForce GTX 280GT2001024 GDDR3602 MHz4.0, 1296 MHz2214 MHz240
GeForce 9600 GTG941024 MB GDDR3650 MHz4.0, 1625 MHz1800 MHz64
ChipMemory busManufacturing processTransistorsInterface
GeForce GTX 280512 bit65 nm1400 millionPCIe 2.0
GeForce 9600 GT256 bit65 nm505 millionPCIe 2.0
ChipCode nameMemoryGPU rateShaderMemory rateSPs
Radeon HD 4870 CFRV770512 MB GDDR5750 MHz4.13600 MHz800
Radeon HD 4870RV770512 MB GDDR5750 MHz4.13600 MHz800
ChipMemory busManufacturing processTransistorsInterface
Radeon HD 4870 CF256 bit55 nm965 millionPCIe 2.0
Radeon HD 4870256 bit55 nm965 millionPCIe 2.0

Memory rate=DDR clock rate doubled, physical rate is halved
DDR5 clock rate quadrupled, physical rate is a quarter
SPs=stream processors, P and V=Pixelshader and Vertexshader
TC=Turbo Cache
HM=Hyper Memory
OC=overclocked (clock rate higher than default)
SLI=Parallel operation with 2 Nvidia cards
3SLI=Parallel operation with 3 Nvidia graphics chips
4SLI=Parallel operation with 4 Nvidia graphics chips
CF=CrossFire parallel operation with 2 ATI cards
3CF=CrossFire parallel operation with 3 ATI graphics chips
4CF=CrossFire parallel operation with 4 ATI graphics chips
R680=2xRV670
Shader 2.0=DirectX 9.0, 3.0=DirectX 9.0c, 4.0=DirectX 10, Shader 4.1=DirectX 10.1

CPUIntel Core 2 Extreme X6800 @ 2.93 GHz (11x266 MHz),Socket 775, 1.28 Volt, 65 nm, L2 cache 4096 KB
CPU overclockedIntel Core 2 Extreme X6800 @ 3.47 GHz (13x266 MHz)
FSB1066 MHz (4x266 MHz)
MotherboardAsus P5E3 Deluxe, PCIe 2.0 2x16, ICH9R
Chip setIntel X38
Memory2x1 GB, Ballistix (Crucial Technology) 1.5 Volt,DDR3 1066 7-7-7-20 (2x533 MHz)
AudioIntel High Definition Audio
LANIntel 1000 Pro
DrivesWestern Digital WD5000AAKS 500 GB, S-ATA, Cache 16 MB,Hitachi 120 GB, S-ATA, Cache 8 MB
DVDGigabyte GO-D1600C
Power SupplyCoolerMaster RS-850-EMBA 850 Watt
MotherboardAsus P5N-T Deluxe, PCIe 2.0 2x16
Chip setNvidia nForce 780i SLI
Memory2x1 GB, A-Data Technology 1.8 Volt, DDR2 800 5-5-5-18 (2x400 MHz)
AudioADI 1988B SoundMax
LANMarvell 88E1116 Gigabit
GraphicRadeon HD 4870 and HD 4870 CrossFire ATI Catalyst 8.6 and 8.8(8.7 for Quake Wars)GeForce 9600 GT Nvidia ForceWare 175.16 and GeForce 177.92GeForce GTX 280 ForceWare 177.39 and GeForce 177.92
Operating systemWindows Vista Enterprise SP1
DirectX10 and 10.1
Chip set driverX38 Intel 8.3.1.1009780i Nvidia nForce 9.64
  • 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