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A Look at NVIDIA’s GeForce 270 Driver
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by Rob Williams on March 30, 2011 in NVIDIA-Based GPU

During a recent briefing, NVIDIA went into detail about what its upcoming GeForce 270 graphics driver would be bringing to the table. In addition to general performance boosts in a multitude of games, an automatic updater is introduced, as are major improvements to certain 3D Vision features and also 3D Vision Surround performance.

At the end of our look at AMD’s Catalyst 11.4 driver earlier this month, I wrapped things up by saying, “It’s clear that AMD is keen on making sure its driver is the best out there, which makes us wonder if NVIDIA is due for a revamp?“, and well, it looks as though I was correct – at least, to an extent.

At a briefing held Tuesday, NVIDIA gave us an update on what its GeForce 270 driver would be bringing to the table. While not a huge overhaul like I predicted, there are multiple improvements that are worth noting – not to mention a number of performance increases that should make 3D Vision Surround users giggle with sheer joy.

Automatic Update Notifier

Similar to AMD’s Catalyst 11.4, NVIDIA’s GeForce 270 release introduces a driver update notifier. At first glance, both implementations look similar, but NVIDIA’s offers the better control to power users. To assure that no user will be left annoyed with an automatic pop-up coming out of nowhere in the corner, the driver installer will ask whether or not the functionality should be enabled. If not, the entire component is left uninstalled.

If the component is installed, the user can tweak how often the driver will check online for a newer version. As you’d expect, “Once per week” and “Once per month” are available, but for the impatient tech-geek in all of us, there’s even an option to check once per hour. Let’s just hope that NVIDIA’s customers don’t end up inadvertantly DDoSing its servers!

For those who don’t want an automatic update, but are not opposed to a simpler way of checking for one, the NVIDIA logo in the system tray can be right-clicked, where that task can be easily accomplished.

If an updated driver is found, clicking the pop-up will bring you straight to NVIDIA’s website where the driver can be downloaded to the desktop. The reason the company doesn’t have the updater automatically download to the desktop or at least give you the option to, is that it’s in good practice to take a look at the release notes, to see just what has been fixed. Ideally, it’d be great to see a more all-in-one solution in the future. There’s little to stop NVIDIA from tweaking the updater to show you the release notes in a pop-up and let you download from within it, rather than have you go to the website first.

“But what about beta drivers?!?!?!”… don’t stress, NVIDIA has you covered. Should you like to live on the bleeding edge, there will be an option in the driver to enable the monitoring of beta releases.

General Performance Increases

With the release of GeForce 270 will come a slew of overall performance improvements, as we’d expect. Although the company couldn’t give us specific details on exactly what was tweaked in the driver that would deliver such increases, the gains seem to be all over the board, and not only affect a limited number of similar games, as the slide below shows:

Measured on the GeForce GTX 580, the biggest improvement is with Just Cause 2, at around +11%. This is a nice increase, considering that the game does tend to struggle a fair bit on NVIDIA’s hardware when compared to AMD’s (despite the game being a “The Way it’s Meant to be Played” title). Other gains include Civilization V with +7%, Far Cry 2 in SLI with +6%, Left 4 Dead 2 with +5%, and both Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 and Mafia II with gains of +4%.

On lower-end hardware, such as with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti, some of the gains can be even more impressive. Just Cause 2 in SLI mode can see an increase of up to +19%, while a non-SLI configuration can still boost things by +13%. Call of Duty: Black Ops and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X. 2 in SLI both see an increase of +5%. Black Ops, Civilization V, Left 4 Dead 2 in SLI and Metro 2033 all see increases of +4%.

Overall, these gains may seem rather modest, but these are in conjunction with other previous performance boosts. Compared to when these games first launched, the overall performance gain is rather substantial. For an extreme example of this, check out Dragon Age 2:

This is a game that struggled on NVIDIA hardware at launch, but the company has fixed its driver to deliver the performance that gamers expect. At the low-end, GeForce GTX 560 Ti gamers can expect a 3.6x performance increase, while that number can skyrocket all the way up to a 6.2x increase with SLI’d GeForce GTX 580s.

3D Vision Surround Performance Increases & Updates

In some games, pushing a 3×1 monitor configuration can be tough, but it’s made even tougher when 3D is brought into the picture. As a result, even some high-end configurations could struggle, but the 270 driver release looks to improve things quite a bit.

At the ultra-high resolution of 5760×1080 (6.22 megapixel), some games will experience rather stark increases, while others will see a minor increase. An example of the minor is with Far Cry 2, which sees about a 15% boost, and Batman: Arkham Asylum, which sees about +5%. Source-based games have seen a good increase all-around, with Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 seeing about a +350% performance improvement. Call of Duty: Black Ops, Aliens vs Predator and Need for Speed: Shift 2 see equally mind-blowing gains.

3D Vision Surround performance aside, NVIDIA updated us on the ecosystem as a whole. First, and going back to the driver for a minute, the 3D Vision controller driver will be bundled in with the regular GeForce releases going forward, easing the pain of having to download two separate installers.

A limitation that 3D Vision has suffered since its launch was that Windows’ Aero theme would have to be disabled when entering 3D mode. With the upcoming driver, that limitation is no more. Also in the same driver, the UI is going to be updated, although what you see in the slide below is exactly all we’ve seen up to this point.

Soon, certain displays will be hitting the market that have built-in 3D Vision emitters, and are for the most part quite discrete to the user. In a similar location to a monitor webcam, the pinhole for the emitter will be somewhere in the center of the display. This in essence means that the very noticeable stand-alone emitter would not be required, which is a perk only certain notebooks have been able to avail us so far. These emitters will be supported with both HDMI 720p/60 and 1080p/24, and also DVI 1080p/60.

Want something a little more interesting than a display with built-in 3D Vision? Here is a good selection of AIOs, projectors and notebooks:

To make the hardware useful, the software has to be a good complement, and in the case of the 3D Vision driver, it seems to be. NVIDIA showed off a range of recent games that have now been certified to work with 3D Vision without issue, including the recently released Homefront and to-be-released Need for Speed: Shift 2.

Finally, NVIDIA touched on the recently-announced drop in price for the 3D Vision kit, which now sits at $149. At the same time, the glasses have been improved to last twice as long before needing a recharge – a nice perk.

Even though NVIDIA’s briefing only discussed the upcoming driver and 3D Vision updates, there was a lot to talk about, as you can see. While I was expecting to see a more substantial driver update in terms of UI, the additions we do see are quite worthy of discussion. Performance boosts are one thing, but the automatic updater is another, and one feature that will be hugely appreciated by many. And for those with 3D Vision Surround kits, downloading the GeForce 270 driver will be a no-brainer… some major improvements there.

NVIDIA will be launching a beta version of its 270 driver immediately, with the final launch expected in the next couple of weeks.

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