used to be that graphics manufacturers dedicated
themselves to incorporating nifty features into their
hardware, besting the competition from a specification
point of view, at the very least. Developer resources
limit the usefulness of these proprietary tricks, though.
And as such, coding for one manufacturer's unique feature
set over another's only exacerbates the time-consuming
process of bringing a modern game to market. Microsofts
DirectX 9 API simplifies the process by proposing a
minimum set of specifications for hardware manufacturers
to support. Software developers, in turn, can write for
that guideline, optimizing to specific architectures as
Although NVIDIA's current
architecture is thought to require quite a bit of
optimization in order to procure competitive performance,
it still conforms to the DirectX 9 specification, albeit
in a different way than ATI. Consequently, NVIDIA's
most recent developments involve software - optimizations
to the run-time compiler, application-specific
optimizations that purportedly conform to requisite
standards for image quality, and driver-level features
intended to streamline usability. The latest
ForceWare (NVIDIA's branded driver suite) update focuses
primarily on that last point. That is, it
incorporates a number of improvements aimed at improving
your interactions with NVIDIA hardware.
As a side note, NVIDIA
made a last-minute decision not to publicly release
version 56.56, the first driver revision in its ForceWare
55 lineup, due to a reported performance-related bug in
the Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo. We were not able to
reproduce the bug on our test systems, however.
According to Brian Burke, an NVIDIA representative, add-in
board partners and system integrators will offer the WHQL-certified
56.56 driver to customers interested in using it.
Settings for each of
available in a number of custom tweaking utilities,
Application Profiles allow you to change driver settings
on a per-application basis. For example, if you play
Command and Conquer with 4x anti-aliasing and Halo with a
combination of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering,
you can opt to have each application invoke those settings
when each game is launched. The profiles are
relatively basic, consisting of anti-aliasing, anisotropic
filtering, image quality, and v-sync controls.
That's certainly a good start, but we'd like to see future
versions of ForceWare add more advanced profiling, like
per-application control over multi-monitor support for
applications that need to be locked onto a single display,
like Final Fantasy XI.
individual profiles is actually fairly easy. You
simply select an application from the hard drive, name the
profile, and assign its settings. Every time
thereafter, your custom settings will be applied.
Easier than ever to
the most difficult tasks in adding functionality is
ensuring that it's accessible to the user - both in terms
of associated documentation for ease of understanding and
its location in the driver. Historically,
comprehensive drivers have included separate tabs for
OpenGL and Direct3D, each with a corresponding set of
controls. ForceWare 55 sports a clean layout with
unified settings that offer simultaneous control over
anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, and image quality.
Advanced users have access to a check box that exposes
some of the more involved graphics options. Without
question, it's the most intuitive control panel we've
used, which, coupled with the Application Profile feature,
is very functional.
NVIDIA's driver team even
simplified the mechanism for delving into hardware performance
settings. A right-click on the desktop brings up a
familiar menu with a notable addition. On a system
with one display, clicking the Analog Display option
initializes the graphics driver property page.
Another subtle enhancement is
the pop-up help bubbles that appear when you mouse-over
certain settings. In the picture below, the pop-up tip
tells the user how to enable anisotropic filtering.
NVIDIA claims that all settings are documented as such, but
we'd be more comfortable saying that a handful of settings
have corresponding pop-up bubbles.
accessibility-related addition is a option to play
selected video files on a television, available by
right-clicking the file. This only works on systems
with an attached television, and won't get in the way if
you're using a standard multi-monitor array.
nView 3.5 and Performance