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NVIDIA 260.63 Beta Driver Performance Review

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SKYMTL

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Whenever a review of a new graphics card is published, people always seem to hold out some hope that drivers will bring about huge performance increases. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case but it does seem like both NVIDIA and ATI have been making some strides towards noticeable gameplay differences through the effective use of driver updates.

Usually, we don’t publish driver performance articles simply because there really hasn’t been all that much to report and far-reaching claims weren’t made. NVIDIA has bucked this trend by not only releasing new drivers that are supposed to increase framerates but they have thoroughly revamped their installation process as well. Their new 260-series have just been rolled out to the public in Beta form (a WHQL version will be coming shortly) and the changes that are made could have a significant impact upon how consumers look at the Fermi architecture.

Make no mistake about it: this article will be about pre and post 260.63 beta driver performance and nothing more. Since interest for the GTX 460 768MB has recently peaked due to a price reduction to a mere $169, we chose it to benchmark. It is without a doubt one of the best-placed cards currently on the market and it should prove to be a good litmus test for this driver’s performance within the rest of NVIDIA’s current lineup.

NVIDIA-260-6.jpg
 
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SKYMTL

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A New Installer & More Features

A New Installer & More Features


In the past, NVIDIA’s executable installer was quite basic. It extracted the files, automatically installed the driver components onto your system and finally prompted a reboot. Straightforward was the name of the game but as the features of NVIDIA’s cards have expanded the old “one size fits all” installation method just wasn’t enough. This is simply because the driver stack included quite a few more items along with an HDMI audio driver and PhysX system software.

NVIDIA-260-2.jpg

It all starts and ends with the new driver front end which finally allows for the installation of individual components. The splash screen looks a lot like ATI’s own Catalyst Install Manager with separate selection boxes to allow for the removal or addition of items. As we have experienced with ATI, we recommend you only install the components you need in order to simplify uninstallation and avoid potential conflicts should they arise.

In addition to giving the user more control over exactly what is installed, this new process can drastically cut down on the time it takes to install the NVIDIA drivers. It can also come in handy for those of you who use modified HDMI or PhysX drivers as you can choose to avoid installing them over your current versions. 3D Vision is included which is a breath of fresh air since before this you needed to find a particular set of drivers on the NVIDIA site to ensure the latest profiles were uploaded. Now, they’re part of the main driver package and don’t need to be installed if you don’t need them.

Finally, there is a handy little box at the bottom of the screen that allows a clean install to be performed. This will uninstall every last portion of the previous drivers prior to installing the 260-series stack. An option such as this could come in handy if you have seriously messed up some settings and can’t seem to restore everything to their factory default values.

NVIDIA-260-3.jpg

There are some bones thrown to Surround users as well and they happen to address some of the concerns we brought up in our original review of the technology. Gone is the clunky backwards and forwards screen switching in the NVIDIA control panel to figure out which resolutions were created when bezel correction is enabled. Now, all of the resolutions are clearly laid out in one screen with pictograms.

NVIDIA-260-5.jpg

The 260.63 beta drivers also bring additional features to the 400-series GPUs. Support for 3D Blu-ray through the HDMI 1.4 connector on the GTX 460 and lower end cards and lossless HD audio playback have finally been added. Naturally, you will need supporting software like Powerlink’s newest PowerDVD to use these

NVIDIA-260-1.jpg

Performance figures above are based upon testing @ 1920 x 1200 @ 4xAA

NVIDIA promises some far-reaching performance improvements with these new drivers but most of them seem geared towards the GTX 460 and slightly higher resolutions as the higher end cards received gradual tweaks over the last few months. Could these benefits cascade down into games not listed? We’re about to find out.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Test System & Setup

Test System & Setup

Processor: Intel Core i7 920(ES) @ 4.0Ghz (Turbo Mode Enabled)
Memory: Corsair 3x2GB Dominator DDR3 1600Mhz
Motherboard: Gigabyte EX58-UD5
Cooling: CoolIT Boreas mTEC + Scythe Fan Controller (Off for Power Consuption tests)
Disk Drive: Pioneer DVD Writer
Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
Power Supply: Corsair HX1000W
Monitor: Samsung 305T 30” widescreen LCD
OS: Windows 7 Ultimate N x64 SP1


Graphics Cards:
GTX 460 768MB (Reference)


Drivers:

NVIDIA 260.63 Beta


Applications Used:

Aliens Versus Predator
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
DiRT 2
Far Cry 2
Just Cause 2
Metro 2033
Starcraft 2


*Notes:

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT OUR BENCHMARKING PROCESS PLEASE SEE THIS ARTICLE

- All games tested have been patched to their latest version

- The OS has had all the latest hotfixes and updates installed

- All scores you see are the averages after 3 benchmark runs

All game-specific methodologies are explained above the graphs for each game

All IQ settings were adjusted in-game
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Montreal
Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)

Aliens Versus Predator (DX11)


When benchmarking Aliens Versus Predator, we played through the whole game in order to find a section which represents a “worst case” scenario. We finally decided to include “The Refinery” level which includes a large open space and several visual features that really tax a GPU. For this run-through, we start from within the first tunnel, make our way over the bridge on the right (blowing up several propane tanks in the process), head back over the bridge and finally climb the tower until the first run-in with an Alien. In total, the time spent is about four minutes per run. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-30.jpg


NVIDIA-260-31.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-32.jpg


NVIDIA-260-33.jpg


At 1680 x 1050, not much is really happening as any differences we saw proved to be due to the very slight variances from one run to the next. There were some slight minimum increases though.

Once we hit 1920, things changed. First of all, there was a significant increase in minimum framerates without AA enabled which is impressive since over the course of all three benchmark runs, this difference stayed the same.

With AA enabled, minimums didn’t provide any excitement but there was nearly a 9% increase in average framerates. Not bad at all.
 

SKYMTL

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BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)

BattleField: Bad Company 2 (DX11)


To benchmark BF: BC2 we used a five minute stretch of gameplay starting from the second checkpoint (after the helicopter takes off) of the second single player mission up until your battle with the tank commences. Framerates are recorded with FRAPS.


1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-34.jpg


NVIDIA-260-35.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-36.jpg


NVIDIA-260-37.jpg


There really isn’t anything new in BattleField: BC2 other than a slight increase in minimum framerates when AA is enabled. This is a bit of a disappointment since along with Just Cause 2, it is one of the games NVIDIA’s performance seems a bit weak in when it comes to average framerates.
 

SKYMTL

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DiRT 2 (DX11)

DiRT 2 (DX11)


Being one of the newest games on the market, DiRT 2 cuts an imposing figure in terms of image quality and effects fidelity. We find that to benchmark this game the in-game tool is by far the best option. However, due to small variances from one race to another, three benchmark runs are done instead of the normal two. It should also be mentioned that the demo version of the game was NOT used since after careful testing, the performance of the demo is not representative of the final product. DX11 was forced through the game’s config file. In addition, you will see that these scores do not line up with our older benchmarks at all. This is due to the fact that a patch was recently rolled out for the game which included performance optimizations in addition to new graphics options.


1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-38.jpg


NVIDIA-260-39.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-40.jpg


NVIDIA-260-41.jpg


Once again we see a sizable and highly impressive gain at 1920 x 1200 with AA enabled but otherwise, there really isn’t all that much of a change.
 

SKYMTL

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Far Cry 2 (DX10)

Far Cry 2 (DX10)


Even though Far Cry 2 has its own built-in benchmarking tool with some flythroughs and “action scenes”, we decided to record our own timedemo consisting of about 5 minutes of game time. It involves everything from run-and-gun fights to fire effects. The built-in benchmarking too was then set up to replay the timedemo and record framerates


1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-42.jpg


NVIDIA-260-43.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-44.jpg


NVIDIA-260-45.jpg


In their documentation, NVIDIA claimed we should see a performance increase in this game but it just isn't happening with our custom play through. Let's face it: this game is OLD and we would have to question why NVIDIA is even spending time on it anymore. This is also one of the last times you will be seeing it benched here at Hardware Canucks.
 

SKYMTL

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Just Cause 2 (DX10)

Just Cause 2 (DX10)


Just Cause 2 has quickly become known as one of the best-looking games on the market and while it doesn’t include DX11 support, it uses the full stable of DX10 features to deliver a truly awe-inspiring visual experience. For this benchmark we used the car chase scene directly following the Casino Assault level. This scene includes perfectly scripted events, some of the most GPU-strenuous effects and lasts a little less than four minutes. We chose to not use the in-game benchmarking tool due to its inaccuracy when it comes to depicting actual gameplay performance.


1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-46.jpg


NVIDIA-260-47.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-48.jpg


NVIDIA-260-49.jpg


In our opinion, this is one of the games which NVIDIA needs to put some efforts into optimizations for. Unfortunately, another driver release has now gone by without any meaningful performance increases.
 

SKYMTL

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Metro 2033 (DX11)

Metro 2033 (DX11)


There has been a lot of buzz about Metro 2033 which has mostly centered on its amazing graphics coupled with absolutely brutal framerates on even the best GPUs on the market. For this test we use a walkthrough and combat scene from The Bridge level which starts at the beginning of the level and lasts for about 5 minutes of walking, running and combat. Famerates are measured with FRAPS and Advanced PhysX is turned off.

1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-50.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-51.jpg


This one really had us scratching our heads but after testing more benchmark runs than we care to count, the results stand: the beta drivers do cut down performance in Metro 2033. Luckily, the difference is only a few percent at a resolution the GTX 460 768MB can't play at anyways.
 

SKYMTL

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StarCraft II (DX9)

StarCraft II (DX9)


In order to test StarCraft II performance we recorded a typical multiplayer battle on the Agria Valley map and used it as a replay in order to ensure every run was identical to one another. We used the last 3 minutes of the replay which includes the final assault on the enemy base. MSAA was applied in the NVIDIA and ATI control panels for certain tests.


1680 x 1050

NVIDIA-260-54.jpg


NVIDIA-260-55.jpg


1920 x 1200

NVIDIA-260-56.jpg


NVIDIA-260-57.jpg


There should be absolutely no doubt in anyone’s head that StarCraft II is a highly important game. Heck 3 million copies sold can’t lie so it is good to see NVIDIA making some serious strides towards performance gains here. The differences in minimum framerates when anti aliasing is enabled are simply amazing in our books.
 
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