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NVIDIA New Reference Driver 12.xx More Power For Pentium 4?

NVIDIA's 'Leakage Policy', Continued

Tony Tamasi, NVIDIA's Director of Product Management:Leaked drivers continue to be a major problem for us, and cause for a great deal of pain for everyone involved. We really do not want the drivers to leak, and we continue to try and prevent that from happening. We've gone as far as turning off a huge number of customer accesses to our prerelease drivers, as well as virtually eliminating all developers from access to prerelease drivers - but the leaks persist.Part of this problem is that our business model requires us to enable our manufacturing partners and OEM's continuous access to our updated drivers in order for them to progress with bug closure and GPU/system qualification and WHQL certification. Because we are not vertically integrated, that means that top tier OEM's, the contract equipment manufacturers that build products for those OEM's, and key AIC manufacturers all need early access to prerelease drivers. Typically these drivers are known to be "buggy" in general, but get built to address a specific bug or bugs that a customer reported, and help to keep the QA pipeline flowing (typically QA cycles at OEM's can take as long as 3 months). As we progress, the driver continues to improve in quality, eventually to the point where we have a single driver binary that can pass WHQL for all our OEM customers across our product line. We do our best to only post drivers that meet a high level of quality - at a minimum WHQL certification for our product line. The updated drivers we post will meet that mark.The current drivers posted on our web site (built from the rel6 tree) have been posted for about 4 months, so you're right - we're definitely due for a new release. The new drivers (12.xx) are based on an updated code tree and class interface (they support the NV20 architecture of course), but along the way we also changed versioning schemes. The "single-digit" prefix driver base (6.xx, 7.xx) are based on the NV10 class [GeForce2 type chips - comment of the editor ] architecture, and the two-digit prefix drivers signify the transition to the new class architecture to support NV20 [GeForce3 type chips - comment of the editor ]. We went to more digits primarily to provide more flexibility for versioning for specific customer issues.

Thank you, Tony!

I used to believe that NVIDIA does not really care much about the leaked driver issue. After all, it ensures that there are thousands of end users deliberately playing beta testers. I also don't know if I would welcome "enforced security measures" against driver leakage, because it would keep the performance hungry and tech-savvy NVIDIA graphics card owners from remaining at the cutting edge.

Driver Revision 12.xx - Enhancing Pentium 4

Finally I am getting to 'the beef'. What is so special about revision 12.xx that I am dedicating an article to it? In the last week I was told by numerous sources that NVIDIA's latest leaked driver contains a significant amount of code that is specifically enhanced for Intel's Pentium 4 processor. While this may be a completely normal development, it could have a significant impact on the current situation in the processor market. In other words, this technical issue could easily have political repercussions.

So far Intel's Pentium 4 processor is having a difficult stand. Intel's flagship processor is still too expensive for the performance it offers in today's applications, especially since AMD's latest price drop. AMD's current flagship, the Athlon 1333 processor, can easily keep up with Intel's Pentium 1700, even though Pentium 4 has a significant clock speed advantage over its competitor from Austin, TX. In the past Intel could justify its high-price policy with the superior performance of its high-end processors. This is where Pentium 4 has failed so far. The main reason is the lack of software support for Pentium 4's new architecture. Once this situation changes, Intel will have a much easier life bringing Pentium 4 to the masses.

If you look at the configuration of OEM systems you will find out that the vast majority is equipped with NVIDIA graphics cards. If those graphics cards would all use drivers that are enhanced for Pentium 4, it could give Pentium 4 a very important performance boost.

NVIDIA stated that driver revision 12.xx has indeed Pentium 4 optimized code:

As you know, the P4's micro architecture is substantially different from P3, specifically in the areas of cache and front side bus (of course there are other difference as well - SIMD2, etc.). We've rearchitected much of our memory management code to make better utilization of the higher front side bus bandwidth from the P4, host memory, and to the graphics processor. Additionally, we've optimized our code for the increased cache line size, and implemented better prefetching throughout the driver to help compensate for the P4's deeper pipeline.

Now you see why we consider it very important to have a closer look at this new NVIDIA driver. It could well have an impact on future Pentium 4 sales!

Expectations

A graphics card driver is of course only able to influence programs that access the display buffer. NVIDIA's driver 12.10 won't be speeding up disk transfers, but it could obviously improve Pentium 4's scores in 3D-games, professional OpenGL-software and maybe even in 2D (office applications).

We compare driver revision 12.10 to driver revision 6.67. The revision 6.67 may sound pretty old, but we should not forget that it used to be pretty up to date until rather recently. The revisions 7.xx never worked properly and as far as I know there weren't any revisions 8.xx - 10.xx. The first semi-official GeForce3 driver revision was 11.01. Each driver will be run on a Pentium 4 1.7 GHz system as well as on an Athlon 1333 MHz DDR system.

Test Setup

I decided to use a GeForce2 Ultra graphics card in this test, because it is based on the widely used NV10(GeForce2)-type architecture as found on graphics card equipped with GeForce2 GTS, GeForce2 Pro, GeForce2 Ultra, GeForce2 MX or GeForce2Go. Only a very small minority of people owns GeForce3 cards right now, which would make a test with this kind of card rather meaningless to most of you.

Pentium 4 SystemAthlon System
MotherboardAsus P4T, Bios 1005 beta 1MSI MS-6341, pre-release BIOS
Memory256 MB Samsung PC800 RDRAM256 MB Mircron PC2100 DDR-SDRAM, CL2, Setting 8-8-5-2-2-2-2
Hard DriveIBM DTLA 307030, 30 GB, 7200 RPM, ATA100, FAT32 (Win98) / NTFS (Win2k)
Network CardNetGear FA310TX
Graphics CardNVIDIA GeForce2 Ultra Reference Card, Driver 1210 / 667
Power Supply400 W
Operating SystemWindows 98 SE / Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 1
Desktop Screen Resolution1024x768x16x85
Quake 3 ArenaRetail Version
Unreal Tournament4.28
EvolvaDemo
DronezDemo
MDK2Demo
Mercedes Benz Truck RacingDemo