Power Consumption and Conclusions

Testing power consumption was done by testing idle power at the desktop and testing load while running 3DMark06 at 2560×1600.  For testing the power consumption, I placed all the cards into the 975XBX2 motherboard to offer a common platform amongst them all. 

Windows Vista Gaming Performance - NVIDIA and ATI Compared - Graphics Cards 83

Windows Vista Gaming Performance - NVIDIA and ATI Compared - Graphics Cards 84

My power consumption testing proves what I had been theorizing for some time about the introduction of the new Aero Glass user interface; idle power consumption has gone up slightly across the board.  Since the new Aero Glass UI uses the DX9 technology to draw everything you see on the screen, the GPU is a lot less “idle” than it was before.  Still, a modest 5-7 watts isn’t much to worry about. 

The load power consumption hasn’t changed from XP to the Vista, and that also makes sense as the Aero interface isn’t running during full screen gaming.


Judging frrom what we have seen thus far, the gaming performance available to enthusiasts is somewhat mixed on Windows Vista.  Both NVIDIA and AMD have some areas where their cards perform well and others where they do not and features from XP to Vista haven’t translated over quickly either. 


First looking at the performance of the Forceware 100.54 driver and the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX and 7900 GTX, I very obviously was let down by the Windows Vista gaming experience.  I didnt’ get to test as many games as I would have liked for this review due to the tight time restraints put on me by the driver availability, but in the games that we did go through only one of them was what I would call a “win” for NVIDIA: FEAR.  In FEAR the performance under Windows Vista was nearly at the same levels we had seen in Windows XP and didn’t present any issues in compatibility or stability.  I guess I’d have to say that Call of Duty 2 performance was also acceptable even though we had to use control panel AA settings instead of in-game AA settings. 

The experience I had with AMD’s first Vista driver was much more positive.  Most of the games I tested showed to be on very close performance levels to those we expected from Windows XP; the exceptions here were FEAR and Prey.  Obviously with Prey not loading at all on our Vista test system, that presents a BIG problem but AMD is confident they’ll find the problem and fix it fast.  I’ll let you know when that happens.  FEAR performance was let down as well, though with the maximum FPS at 46 across the board in our tests, chances are this can be fixed pretty easily as well. 

Overall, in terms of performance, NVIDIA is lucky that they have the GeForce 8800 series of cards available and AMD’s R600 is still behind closed doors.  The raw power of the G80 core is able to keep the 8800 GTX as our performance leader in Windows Vista even with the mentioned performance problems when compared to the AMD’s flagship ATI X1950 XTX card. 

Update (2/13/07): As mentioned on the pages of benchmarks for both BF2 and HL2: Lost Coast, NVIDIA was able to discover the issue that was causing such a severe drop in performance.  Basically, what we are seeing are compatibility issues between a new feature in the G80 driver and the existing code for some games.  When a user sets an in-game setting of 4xAA, really what the game is doing is putting in the request for 4xAA to the graphics driver.  The driver model also is setup to ask the game software what quality of AA it wants, and this is where the confusion arises.  Nearly all games simply reply with a “0” for a default, or standard quality setting as that was the only option the drivers supported anyway.  However, some games, like BF2 and HL2: Lost Coast reply with a “best” response.  That wasn’t a problem in G70 or XP-based G80 drivers because no matter the reply, the result was always the same 4xAA sampled image quality. 

With the introduction of the new 100 series of drivers for the G80 parts though, NVIDIA implemented the ability to actually allow the game software to select a quality setting.  Those titles that were asking for “high quality 4xAA” were actually getting NVIDIA’s new 16xCSAA (a new feature brought to the GeForce 8800 series but that used to require control panel adjustments) while the games that replied with a “0” for the quality setting were being sent the correct and standard 4xAA.  So, the games that we mentioned above were actually seeing an increase in image quality beyond the standard 4xAA they were requesting, and this explains some of the dramatic performance gaps between our Vista test system using the 100-series drivers and the XP system using the 90-series drivers.

Other games that show this behaviour are Battlefield 2142, Half-Life 2 and Sin: Episodes.  Gamer’s that are using Vista and playing these titles on a GeForce 8800 will want to set the 4xAA mode in the control panel if they want to get the standard 4xAA IQ and performance levels. End Update (2/13/07)

Driver Features

As mentioned on the first pages of this article, the driver features comparison between ATI and NVIDIA is pretty dramatic.  AMD was able to get the ATI Catalyst 7.1 driver to not only be fully functional, but added some new features like Blu-ray and HD-DVD support and a new control center that loads faster and has better previewing capability.  They full admitted that OpenGL performance was going to be lower than we expected in Windows XP (though not working wasn’t in the books!) but with CrossFire working in the exact same way as it did under Windows XP the AMD ATI Catalyst driver seemed pretty refined and ready for the spotlight.

NVIDIA’s Forceware 100.54 driver on the other hand was more or less a mess.  SLI support was not enabled and as of 10am on the 30th, the day Vista was released, it still wasn’t ready.  That is a very big let down for any enthusiast gamers who put their stock in NVIDIA technology with their hard earned dough.  TV output and HDMI support is pretty much a wash here and several bugs stand out as making this driver revision seem rushed and hacked together.  As I complained about in the earlier segments, how can a driver for a product in development for 4 years (G80) for an OS in development for what seems like forever, NOT be ready on launch day?

Update 2/1/07: NVIDIA did just release a new driver revision, 100.59, that adds SLI support for GeForce 8-series cards ONLY.  Nothing else has been updated.

Final Thoughts

It may seem like my testing with gaming performance in Vista all resulted in a feeling of doom (nope, no OpenGL support!) and gloom, but don’t let that scare you off just yet.  I think we all expected there to be some initial growing pains with the Vista operating system and PC gaming simply because of the dramatic shift in driver technology that had to take place; I just don’t think we expected it to be this bad.  AMD’s driver development team is definitely a leap ahead of NVIDIA’s as the initial release ATI Catalyst driver offered a gaming experience much closer to that of Windows XP in the new Vista OS than NVIDIA’s initial Forceware release.  This may change as driver revisions are updated through the comings months, so we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on both companies progress.

For now, gamers that were interested in running off to get a copy of Windows Vista, I’d caution you to take a minute and contemplate.  Gaming under Vista is definitely possible and if you’re comfortable with some slight performance drops for now while taking advantage of Vista’s other new features, then a move to Vista sooner rather than later should be considered.  If gaming and gaming performance is your only metric for your PC, then I’d definitely hold out on upgrading until AMD and NVIDIA have their software perfected. 

If you have any questions or comments on this article, I have started a thread in our forums to answer them, so join in!

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  • Those of you interested in more information on Windows Vista might want to check out my article that shows the basic install and upgrade process for Vista, and how you MIGHT still be able to use OEM software for an enthusiast machine without needed to buy the more expensive retail versions!

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