A Totally New Driver

NVIDIA Detonator 51.75 Driver Performance

This content was originally featured on Amdmb.com and has been converted to PC Perspective’s website. Some color changes and flaws may appear.

For the past couple of months or so, during my different meetings with NVIDIA at trade events or on their campus in Santa Clara, I have been hearing the words of the Release 50 Detonator drivers. They were to offer dramatic performance increases as well as new features that would definitely grab the eye.

Well, after todays events between ATI, NVIDIA and Valve (see this story at HardOCP and this one as well) NVIDIA sent over their release 50 drivers, version 51.75, to be tested.

Now, while I don’t have a copy of the new beta Half Life 2 to benchmark using these new 51.75 drivers, it is these drivers that will give the NVIDIA graphics cards the much needed push in performance in DX9 games, including HL2. While we currently don’t have good ways of testing DirectX 9, I decided it would be good to see how the new drivers affect current games running the DX8 API..

Below you will see benchmarks comparing the 44.67 drivers to the 51.75 drivers on an NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra graphics card. Driver settings are shown on the graphs as well.


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NVIDIA Detonator 51.75 Driver Performance - Graphics Cards 12

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On the Unreal Tournament 2003 engine, the frame rate numbers show a very minimal increase pretty much across the board, but the numbers stay close enough that the differences are mostly meaningless.

X2 – The Threat

This new benchmark is a publicly available demo at http://www.egosoft.com/ based around the upcoming game of the same name. It is a DX8 game but is still quite demanding on the PC hardware. At the recommendation of our video editor, Jon, I decided to throw in this benchmark.

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The Detonator 51.75 drivers do show better performance gains here, but they are still nothing to get overly excited about.

3DMark03 320

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The 3DMark03 scores show the 51.75 Detonator drivers having a slightly faster score in the DX9 related tests. If you see the Pixel Shader 2.0 test, the score goes up about 25% and the Vertex Shader score is about 12% faster.


From these quick tests, it is clear that the new release 50 Detonator drivers from NVIDIA aren’t going to offer big performance gains for the current generations of video games. The purpose of this driver release is twofold: to improve DirectX 9 performance, and to make NVIDIA more competitive against ATI. Whether this driver accomplishes that in games like Half-Life 2 remains to be seen.

On the other hand, there are quite a few neat features that the Release 50 drivers introduce, but we were asked to keep that under wraps until the drivers are officially announced later this month. NVIDIA’s software development team has been hard at work the past few months on the graphics and platform end of things, and I will be excited to show you their work soon.

Update (9/12/03 12:52am): Interestingly, in Anand’s article addressing the HL2 performance issue, Valve specifically gave instructions to NOT use the Release 50 drivers which seems rather odd to me. If they could improve HL2’s performance, then they would want that to be known, right?

Update (9/14/03 12:38pm): I’ve gotten a lot of emails pointing me to this line in Anand’s article —

NVIDIA does have a new driver release on the horizon, the Detonator 50 series of drivers, however Valve instructed us not to use these drivers as they do not render fog in Half-Life 2. In fact, Valve was quite insistent that we only used publicly available drivers on publicly available hardware, which is a reason you won’t see Half-Life 2 benchmarks in our upcoming Athlon 64 review.
And while yes, I did read this, it was my understanding from ATI and from others at the event that the NVIDIA drivers didn’t render the fog correctly, not that it didn’t do it all. Either case, the point was made that because the Detonator 50s weren’t available to public, they should be used (mentioned to me in several emails and in Anand’s article) but this simply doesn’t make sense to me as the HL2 demo itself, isn’t available to the public! I don’t simply don’t buy that as an answer. Finally, keep in mind that the info that I got on the HL2 demo and the Det50s is second hand — as is most peoples.