NVIDIA Achieves Holy Grail of Drivers

Okay, it's time for a short tangent. Gary mentioned recently that NVIDIA posted new Windows 7 compatible drivers on their website. What he neglected to mention is that new drivers are also available for Windows Vista and XP. Note that all of these are "beta" drivers, so there may be a few bugs left to work out, but we often feel that way about official drivers as well. So what makes these new drivers so special that they deserve a second mention? What exactly is the "Holy Grail" of this driver release?

Given this is a laptop article, you've probably already guessed, but the new drivers are available for notebooks as well. That's right, NVIDIA managed to release updated drivers for all major platforms on the same day! The drivers are available for all users whether they run the latest Windows 7 Release Candidate, Windows Vista, or Windows XP -- in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors. If that's not enough, NVIDIA updated their drivers again one week later with the 185.85 WHQL release, once again available for all the major platforms and cards.

If you're running an older laptop, we do have to curb our enthusiasm. Users of GeForce Go 7 series hardware will have to continue using the last 179.48 beta drivers. Of course, it's also very unlikely that the latest drivers will contain any optimizations for older DirectX 9 hardware, so the 179.48 release should continue to work fine for the time being. (It's interesting to note that in quite a few titles we test with, performance has actually dropped somewhat over the past six months of mobile driver releases, so GeForce Go 7 users have even less incentive to want to upgrade.) Everyone else that runs a laptop with NVIDIA graphics will probably want to update... well, almost everyone.

As in the past, NVIDIA's mobile reference drivers only work with laptops from participating vendors. That covers the vast majority of users that have laptops, but some vendors/models are not supported:

  • Hybrid SLI notebooks:
    • Acer Aspire 7530
    • BenQ Joybook S42
    • Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi 3650
    • MSI EX630
    • Qosmio X305-Q706
    • Qosmio X305-Q708

  • Fujitsu notebooks -- (please contact the notebook OEM for driver support for these notebooks). Note: Fujitsu Siemens (FSC) notebooks are supported in this release
  • Lenovo ThinkPad notebooks (please contact the notebook OEM for driver support for these notebooks)
  • Sony VAIO notebooks (please contact the notebook OEM for driver support for these notebooks)
  • Any notebook that is launched after the release date of this driver (Ed: naturally)

If you've been following NVIDIA's mobile driver releases, you may notice that Dell's Vostro line is no longer on the unsupported list -- most likely Dell heard your complaints. We're not sure why the Hybrid SLI notebooks aren't supported, but a far bigger concern is that several major vendors are apparently unwilling to participate in NVIDIA's mobile driver program. So let's make this clear: Lenovo, Sony, and Fujitsu, get with the program! Granted, none of those companies focuses on gaming laptops, but updated drivers are still important for other reasons -- for example, if you want to run the release candidate for Windows 7 with optimal performance. For reference, the latest driver currently available from Sony appears to be the 176 series, Lenovo offers the 178 series, and Fujitsu is still serving up 174 series drivers.

Is this going to be the way of all driver releases from the green team going forward? We certainly hope so, and if that's the case their competitors are in a difficult bind. It's absolutely great that notebook users won't have to wait several extra months before they get updated drivers for once. Put another way: NVIDIA has just moved all-in with pocket aces and there's another ace on the flop. ATI has their work cut out for them if they want to match that high standard, and that goes double for gaming laptops where driver updates are even more crucial. We can basically state that any game launched after a driver release is not likely to have any specific optimizations. Sometimes that will matter and other times it won't, but newer drivers are particularly helpful for multi-GPU configurations running new titles, which brings us back to the ASUS W90Vp.

Index ATI's Mobile Driver Program -- or Lack Thereof
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  • buzznut - Saturday, May 30, 2009 - link

    Looky there, I went and missed "bash AMD day"

    Damn, they're prolly still reeling.
  • Johnmcl7 - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    In the specs for this machine it lists an 8x DVDR drive initially, then refers to it as a blu-ray drive just further down - I assume the first entry should read bd-rom/dvd-r combo.

    I have to say the pictures are extremely disappointing as the main shots of the laptop are badly underexposed concealing most of the details. I do realise these machines are not easy to get a picture of but normally the pictures in reviews are pretty decent. It would be good to see some pictures with some standard items (DVD cases or something) when the laptop is open to get a better idea of the scale, I think the sleek look makes it look smaller than it is especially given it makes the D901C look small which I didn't think possible.

    As for the laptop itself I did consider one of these mainly because the price was good but decided against it due to the size/weight. I had a Dell XPS 2 then M1710 and I think that's really the upper limit to carry around with me. I have an XPS M1730 at the moment and it never leaves the house as combined with its huge powerpack makes it quite a bit bigger and heavier than the M1710, there's no way I would go bigger again.

    It's a shame to see the driver situation is so poor when the performance is clearly there, it's not very encouraging for other companies to pick up mobile ATI parts either.
  • mrbios - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Jarred (or anyone who may purchase this notebook), I have a different Asus laptop that has the same multimedia touchpad, and I did find a way to disable it. Go into the Mouse control panel, go to Device Settings, expand tapping, click on tap zones, and uncheck "enable tap zones".
  • garydale - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Why is it so difficult to get good display drivers for games? The OpenGL interface is well defined so what's the problem with writing a driver for it that game developers can have confidence it will work according to spec.?

    Is this a case of the hardware manufacturers screwing up with the driver or the game developers trying to get around the API to work directly with the hardware or a bit of both? Frankly, I don't care. If I want to play a game on a computer, it should install and work just like any other piece of software or hardware.

    Hopefully AMD/ATI's release of details of their API will help bring stability and performance, at least for Linux games. Now will NVidia follow suit and allow the open source community to build their own drivers to end this proprietary "buggy driver" lunacy?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    I believe most of the driver updates are to optimize the way the GPU executes certain code. In theory, the drivers should run all code properly but not optimally. The reality, sadly, is that the "properly" part is only correct about 80% of the time with new titles. Add CrossFire into the mix and that seems to drop down to 50%. If you have a regular dual card CrossFire setup, disabling CrossFire in the CCC often solves compatibility issues, but that's not an option on the drivers I've received for the W90Vp.

    In the case of Empire: Total War it looked like the drivers were rendering properly on one card but not on the other. If I grabbed a screenshot via the PrintScreen button, everything looked correct, but looking at the screen only the landscaping and sky were always visible and correct. The units, trees, buildings, etc. were only visible about 10% of the frames, which pretty much means you can't play the game.
  • mbaroud - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    I own one the W90VP-A1.
    I have been dyingto update the drivers, it sucks running on OUTDATED drivers :(
  • nubie - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    If these are simply mobile desktop replacements why doesn't somebody get on making a desktop built into the screen already?

    And I don't mean the hideous monstrosity that is the Dell XP1.

    I am all for laptops, but this form factor is silly above 15.4" in my opinion.

    (that said, I love the tech, it is very cool.)
  • Jackattak - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Dunno if you've been asleep for the past two years but just about every major PC manufacturer offers a desktop built-in to the screen nowadays, none of which are "hideous" (strictly my opinion, but I find it hard to find a screen "hideous", and that's essentially all these offerings are is a screen).
  • garydale - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    It's generally cheaper and faster to run multiple desktops in the locations you need than to lug a "desktop replacement" around. Just keep your documents (and other settings) on a USB key or implement an Internet synchronization scheme.

    The simple fact is that you cannot get anything that can be reasonably called a laptop to match the performance of a desktop. Laptops don't have the space for multiple drives, they can't dissipate heat as well, and they certainly can't accommodate expansion.

    To get the same performance of a desktop in a mobile platform, you have to wait for the technology to become available then pay a premium for the privilege. People have been saying laptops are getting near desktop performance for decades. What is actually happening however is the price of admission for an application platform has been decreasing.

    You can get a resonable desktop today for what a hard drive would have cost you twenty years ago. However, if you want cutting edge power, you need a desktop or larger.
  • frozentundra123456 - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    The charts are technically labelled incorrectly. I believe for instance the first chart, black bar, means the ratio of nVidia performance to ATI, not percent improvement as it is labelled. Saying "102 percent improvement" actually means that the nVidia solution is twice as fast as the ATI, which from reading the rest of the article appears not to be what the author meant. The rest of the charts are labelled in this way also.

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