NVIDIA is also releasing the new Detonator FX along with its new GPU. A pre-release version carrying the build number 44.03 was available to us for this test.
This new driver is NVIDIA's reaction to the criticism of bad image quality when using anisotropic filtering on the GF FX. Since this type of texture filtering is a real performance killer, both NVIDIA and ATi use "optimized" filtering techniques. What this means is that not all areas in a 3D scene are filtered at the same setting, with the goal of improved performance. Besides, there are also different types of filtering (bilinear or trilinear anisotropic filtering - see also www.fsz.bme.hu ).
The level of optimization can be set in the cards' drivers. NVIDIA's driver offers three different settings, which have also changed since previous driver versions. The Quality setting offers the best image quality, as the name implies, while Performance and High Performance, the two newly-added settings, improve speed at the cost of detail. The default setting is Quality. ATi's drivers offer two levels of optimization, also called Performance and Quality. With the Detonator FX, these settings now directly influence performance in FSAA, even with image quality enhancements deactivated. In Performance and High Performance settings, different texture settings are used. NVIDIA doesn't go into more detail with their explanation, though.
Until now, ATi always came out as the winner in direct image quality comparisons that used single-frame screenshots. NVIDIA's apologetic explanation was that the GF FX's filtering was originally optimized for moving scenes, not for single frames. The new driver solves this "problem," and is supposed to offer good quality - even in still frames. In Quality mode, the entire scene is filtered trilinear anisotropic, whereas Performance reverts to bilinear anisotropic. ATi's driver works in a similar manner.
Yet the Detonator FX driver's improvements go beyond image quality refinement. The driver also enhances performance of all GeForceFX cards, even with image quality enhancements disabled.