One Year Worth Of Drivers
We update drivers for two reasons: stability and performance. When it comes to graphics, both are important, but it’s the latter we quantify using benchmarks.
Beyond making sure a game doesn’t crash, stability is difficult to measure. So, we make sure everything runs the way it should and move on.
On the other hand, performance is what built our industry. We want more frames per second. Sometimes, a performance boost necessitates an entirely new graphics card. But we’ve also seen examples of older boards picking up momentum thanks to focused driver development. If we can get extra speed via simple software updates, well, we’ll take it.
We’ll break down the evolution of an Nvidia-based card in our next installment of this series. For now, we’re tracking the performance of AMD’s vaunted Radeon HD 5870 over the course of its still-useful life.
The Radeon HD 5870 was released in mid-September 2009. So let’s assume you waited for at least a month to see what Nvidia was offering and ended up buying the 5870 in November. That means you've owned it for about a year and a half. Since that time, we've seen 15 driver updates.
After sinking close to $400 on that once flagship Radeon HD 5870, there is a good chance you've been updating its driver on a consistent basis. Each installation was probably preceded by the folllowing introduction in AMD's Catalyst release notes:
This article provides information on the latest posting of AMD’s software suite, AMD Catalyst 11.1. This particular software suite updates both the AMD display driver, and the AMD Catalyst Control Center. This unified driver has been updated to provide an enhanced level of power, performance, and reliability.
But have we really seen enhanced “power, performance, and reliability”? We are accustomed to seeing very small improvements in performance from one software update to the next. If every driver provides a performance bump, there should be a big difference between the first driver that supported the 5870 and the one AMD blogged about last month, right? Have those updates really been worthwhile? We are selecting four update packages from the original 15 to examine exactly what it means to keep your driver up-to-date.