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Do New Drivers Really Boost Performance?

GeForce GTX 280: Driver Update from 177.39 to 177.92

A wide range of performance numbers is necessary in order to hash out detailed differences between software builds. The following tables show you which resolutions and games contain the optimizations now rolled into Nvidia’s latest WHQL release. Following the individual evaluations of the each tested card, you’ll find a summary containing the collated values. The overall result shows the general effect on 3D performance. Tables at the end of the article show these items arranged separately by resolution and anti-aliasing.

The driver versions are listed directly after the chip name. The resolutions go from 1280x1024 to 1680x1050 to 1920x1200 pixels, first without anti-aliasing (0xAA), then in the same order with anti-aliasing (4xAA, and in Mass Effect with 8xAA as well). The two upper lines of figures represent the frame rates. The lower line is the difference in performance in percentage.

Assassins Creed in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3963.662.562.149.849.047.8334.8
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9263.363.363.350.249.848.2338.1
Difference in performance in percentage-0.51.31.90.81.60.81.0

Though the results here span within an acceptable margin of error, a minimal increase can be seen.

Call of Duty 4 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.39172.2149.4129.5135.1118.2103.2807.6
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92169.9150.2132.3149.9130.3112.7845.3
Difference in performance in percentage-1.30.52.211.010.29.24.7

The new driver clearly has an effect with anti-aliasing enabled. Nvidia promises up to 15 percent; the 11 percent actually achieved can be considered a good result.

Crysis High in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3935.534.831.329.926.023.5181.0
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9237.333.131.529.426.223.3180.8
Difference in performance in percentage5.1-4.90.6-1.70.8-0.9-0.1

As we have come to expect from Crysis, the frame rates fluctuate 2 fps to 3 fps depending on the driver version used. Generally, the driver update doesn’t help much. Only the 1280x1024-pixel resolution without anti-aliasing profits from 5 percent more performance.

Crysis Very High in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3931.929.124.925.820.316.3148.3
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9232.427.623.225.219.115.2142.7
Difference in performance in percentage1.6-5.2-6.8-2.3-5.9-6.7-3.8

With Very High image quality, performance drops visibly, thanks to the new driver.

ET: Quake Wars in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3982.681.881.382.781.981.2491.5
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9285.582.182.584.482.881.9499.2
Difference in performance in percentage3.50.41.52.11.10.91.6

In Quake Wars there is a minimal improvement. The differences within a margin of error, which is considerably higher with this game—fluctuations of up to 3 fps are normal.

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.39104.299.398.7103.499.199.0603.7
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.92103.898.698.3102.998.698.4600.6
Difference in performance in percentage-0.4-0.7-0.4-0.5-0.5-0.6-0.5

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 shows a gentle tendency downward with the new driver.

Mass Effect in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAA12808xAA16808xAA19208xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3993.692.890.190.385.662.693.482.760.6751.7
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9296.794.892.096.784.862.093.782.560.1763.3
Difference in performance in percentage3.32.22.17.1-0.9-1.00.3-0.2-0.81.5

Mass Effect improves the most in the 1280 resolution, both without and with anti-aliasing (4xAA). However, the old values do not fit into the expected measurement range; this optimization is probably lower due to an error correction.

MS Flight Simulator X SP2 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3931.931.630.132.631.831.3189.3
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9232.732.732.234.634.433.7200.3
Difference in performance in percentage2.53.57.06.18.27.75.8

Performance improvement is high in terms of percentage but low in terms of frames. However, the new driver version provides a visible improvement.

World in Conflict in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.3948.850.746.942.236.332.8257.7
GTX 280 (1024 MB) 177.9251.349.646.644.237.333.2262.2
Difference in performance in percentage5.1-2.2-0.64.72.81.21.7

World in Conflict shows the same performance increases in the 1280 resolution as Mass Effect, and here it is probably also more of an adjustment due to an error correction. The measured values and frame rates are more realistic with the new driver.

  • 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