2012 AMD and NVIDIA Driver Performance Summary Review

We have evaluated AMD and NVIDIA's 2012 video card driver performances separately. Today we will be combining these two evaluations to show each companies full body of work in 2012. We will also be looking at some unique graphs that show how each video cards driver improved or worsened performance in each game throughout the year.

Introduction

In 2012 AMD and NVIDIA competed fiercely with each other to provide gamers and enthusiasts alike the best experience possible with both its hardware and driver support. We dissected both of the companies separately. In our 2012 NVIDIA Video Card Driver Performance Review and in our 2012 AMD Video Card Driver Performance Review. In this evaluation we will be looking at a few things. On each of our gameplay pages we have the Radeon HD 7970 and HD 7950 video cards, as well as the GeForce GTX 680 and GTX 670 video cards. In this review we are not necessarily comparing the performance of AMD to NVIDIA. We are going to be comparing the performance between AMD and AMD, as well as NVIDIA to NVIDIA.

We also have a unique graph on each gameplay page that plots all performances from both the AMD and NVIDIA video cards. On this graph you will see the average framerate that the specific driver and the video card provided. The graph also includes the release date of each driver, and the version of the driver. This allows us to map out how the drivers increased and decreased each video cards performance throughout the year.

In this evaluation we will be using the same four games used in each of the previous driver roundup articles. The four games are listed below.

Far Cry 3 was released on December 4th, 2012, and is the newest game that we will be looking at. It uses the DX11 API and includes several DX11 features like advanced ambient occlusion and alpha to coverage. FC3 was released at the end of the year, meaning the drivers leading up to the games release should have little to no change on performance. We will only see noticeable performance gains once we install the drivers that each company released with the game. You can read more about it in our Far Cry 3 Gameplay Performance and IQ evaluation.

Max Payne 3 is a DX11 that was released on May 31st, right in the middle of the year. High resolutions and high AA settings combined with the available DX11 features make MP3 one of the more performance demanding games on the market. You can read more about it in our Max Payne 3 Performance and IQ evaluation.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim will be occupying the spot of our DX9 game. It was released on November 11th, 2011 meaning that it was out during the entire life of both the AMD and NVIDIA video cards. Since it is such a popular game there were several bug fixes and performance boosts throughout the year. You can read more about it in our Skyrim Gameplay Performance Review.

Battlefield 3 Multiplayer will be our fourth, and oldest game in this evaluation. You can read more about it in our Battlefield 3 Gameplay Performance and IQ evaluation.


AMD Drivers

Listed below are the AMD drivers that we will be using for this evaluation.

RC11 Driver dated January 25th, 2012. This was the first public driver that became available with the AMD Radeon HD 7000 series video cards. It also brought users the ability to turn on SSAA and Adaptive AA through the Catalyst Control Panel.

CAT 12.2 dated March 12th, 2012. This driver added HydraVision for Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers.

CAT 12.3 dated March 28th, 2012. This driver did not have any game specific performance increases, but resolved several issues with the Windows 7 operating system. It was also the first driver to fully support the AMD Radeon HD 7900, HD 7800, and HD 7700 series of video cards.

CAT 12.4 dated April 25th, 2012. Significantly improved Morphological AA (MLAA) performance, and texture filtering performance. Also added support for Windows XP with all HD 7000 series video cards.

CAT 12.6 dated June 6th, 2012. This driver added several game profiles, including Skyrim, Diablo 3, and Portal 2. It also resolved a large number of Windows 7 OS problems.

CAT 12.8 dated August 15th, 2012. This was the first driver to add Windows 8 support.

CAT 12.8 dated December 3rd, 2012. This was the first driver to improve performance in Far Cry 3 by up to 25% This driver also includes up to a 5% performance gain in Max Payne 3, and between 10 and 15% better performance in Battlefield 3.

We used the latest Catalyst Application Profile available at the time for each driver. While the CAP adds profiles to be used in CrossFire setups, it often times adds a small performance increase for single GPU setups in game specific scenarios.


NVIDIA Drivers

Listed below are the NVIDIA drivers that we will be using for this evaluation.

R300 - 301.10 WHQL dated March 22nd, 2012. This is the first driver that was released to the public with the launch of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 video card. This driver brought GPU boost technology to the GeForce 600 series, FXAA technology to the NV control panel, and adaptive vertical sync. It also allowed a single GeForce GTX 680 to use NVIDIA 3D surround vision technology.

301.42 WHQL dated May 22nd, 2012. This driver added support for the GTX 690, 670, and GT 600 series GPUs. It was the first WHQL driver to support both the GeForce GTX 600 and GTX 500 series video cards.

306.23 WHQL dated September 13th, 2012. This was the first driver to add support for the GeForce GTX 660 Ti, GTX 660, and GTX 650 video cards. It also added support for NVIDIA's TXAA technology on the GeForce GTX 600 series video cards. This driver also carried a performance increase for the GeForce 400, 500, and 600 series GPUs in many games.

306.97 WHQL dated October 10th, 2012. This driver was the first driver recommended for use with Windows 8. There were no performance gains listed for our games, but it was the recommended driver for other launch games like Borderlands 2 and World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria.

310.33 BETA dated October 23rd, 2012. This driver provided several performance increases for the GeForce GTX 680, including up to 11% faster performance in Skyrim. This is the only BETA driver that we are using in this evaluation, and the first driver in the 310 family which is still current today.

310.70 WHQL dated December 17th, 2012. This driver is the first driver to add a performance boost to Far Cry 3, with up to 38% better performance. Also listed are up to 16% better performance in Battlefield 3 and up to 9% better performance in The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.


Test Setup

We will be using a GIGABYTE Z77X-UP4-TH motherboard, an Intel Core i7 3770k Overclocked at 4.8GHz, and 8GB of Corsair RAM.

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Due to circumstances beyond our control the data collected from the 2012 NVIDIA Video Card Driver Performance Review and the 2012 AMD Video Card Driver Performance Review were done with two different CPUs, however these were running at the same clock speed of 4.8GHz. In the NVIDIA article the test bench was running a Core i7 2600k that was overclocked to 4.8 GHz. In our AMD article, our test bench was running a Core i7 3770k that was also overclocked to 4.8 GHz. The IPC difference is minimal between these, and we are running at such high GPU intensive settings that we are GPU bound, and not CPU bound in all our tests. All other components are the same. Since we fully load the GPU when we do our gameplay testing, and not the CPU, we will see no real world differences as a result of the different processor.