Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

2012 NVIDIA Video Card Driver Performance Review

We are taking the time to look back at NVIDIA's driver performance and support for 2012. Last year NVIDIA introduced to the world the GeForce GTX 600 series video cards. We will be using a GeForce GTX 680 and a GTX 670 to compare 2012's WHQL driver performance over time to see if and how much performance has improved.

Introduction

Now that we are in 2013, it is time to take a look back at 2012 and see if and how much performance has improved from the release of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 and GeForce GTX 670 video cards over time to the end of 2012. The GeForce GTX 680 was released on March 22nd, of 2012 and the GeForce GTX 670 was released on May 10th of 2012. Our goal is to see how the drivers affect the performance in these video cards from video card release date with release driver, till the end of 2012 using the latest driver by year's end. We will be using a mix of games that test for several scenarios described below. What we are looking for is how the drivers have evolved over 2012 and improved performance. We will also be publishing a Part 2 evaluation, which is in the works, that takes a look at AMD's 2012 driver performance, in the same format as this article today.

In this evaluation we have chosen to use four popular games for very specific reasons. Of these four games, two were released at the end of 2011 and therefore existed the entire year of 2012. One game was released in the middle of 2012, and another game was released at the end of 2012. In these four games, we have chosen three DirectX 11 games, and one DX9 game. The two games that were out the entire year of 2012 will show us how game specific driver updates have affected performance throughout the entire year. The third game that was released mid-year will show us a game that wasn't out when the cards were launched, but later on might have received driver updates. The fourth game is a brand new game, that just came out in December of 2012, and therefore did not receive driver specific updates for its performance. What this game can tell us is if there were raw driver performance improvements throughout the year that might affect things like shader performance in an overall encompassing way that inherently has improved performance in all games, or not. Therefore, this is a good mix of two games that were out the entire year, at card launch, a game mid-year, not at card launch, and a game at end of the year, way before drivers would have ever been specifically optimized or thought about for the game.

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 being released at the end of the year will serve as an interesting look for all drivers leading up to the game's release. It will paint us a picture of what performance looks like when a game isn't specifically optimized. Remember, it hasn't been until driver version 310.70 on December 3rd that this game received special optimization on NVIDIA GPUs. It will serve to also show us if there are inherent driver performance improvements, not game specific. You can read more about this game in our Far Cry 3 Gameplay Performance and IQ evaluation.

Max Payne 3 comes from one of gaming's most familiar franchises. It is a DX11 game that supports tessellation and advanced ambient occlusion settings like HDAO. This game was released on May 31st, right in the middle of the year. It was released after both video cards here, were released. High resolutions and high AA settings combined with the available DX11 features have shown that MP3 is still be one of the more demanding games on the market. You can read more about it in our Max Payne 3 Performance and IQ evaluation.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim took up countless weeks of many of our lives, and will be occupying the spot of our DX9 game. It is also one of gaming's more familiar game franchises. It was released on November 11th, 2011 meaning that it was out during the entire life of the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 600 series, the entire year of 2012, and the entire life of all the drivers. Being such a popular game there were several bug fixes and performance boosts to look at over the different driver families. 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. It was released on October 25th, 2011. BF3 is arguably the best online first person shooter game from 2011 to now. Being another one of the more popular games, NVIDIA took a lot of time fixing bugs and improving performance of this game not only with the GeForce GTX 500 series drivers, but with the GTX 600 series as well. This game has been out the entire life of these video cards, and driver versions, and all of 2012. You can read more about it in our Battlefield 3 Gameplay Performance and IQ evaluation.


Drivers

As we mentioned, we will be using the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 and GeForce GTX 670 video cards in order to test the 2012 drivers. We chose not to include the GeForce GTX 660 Ti or GeForce GTX 660 video cards because they were launched so late in the year. The GTX 660 Ti was launched in August of 2012, and therefore would only show driver advantages for a few months. We can already see this with the GTX 680 and 670 showing us driver improvements for the entire year, and those cards give us a wider look at driver improvements.

There are six graphics drivers that we will be using for the GeForce GTX 680 and five drivers that we will be using for the GeForce GTX 670, from release date to the end of 2012. Keep this in mind, there have been a lot of Beta driver releases, between WHQL releases, however there is no way we can evaluate every single Beta driver. It would take an enormous amount of time to do that, and would be a mess of data that frankly wouldn't show us anything different. We are sticking to the WHQL driver releases, except for the release driver, and any specific Beta driver which was quoted as making a huge impact on performance. There was at least one Beta driver in 2012 from NVIDIA that claimed a big performance improvement, and that was 310.33 Beta, so it is included. Every WHQL driver that comes after a Beta driver, contains all the improvements the previous Beta driver contained, so with each WHQL driver being used, all performance is being shown. Listed below are the 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.

We are not using NVIDIA's latest driver, the 301.90 WHQL driver, in this evaluation. It was released on January 5th, 2013 and will be the first driver in next year's performance roundup for 2013.


Test Setup

We will be using a GIGABYTE Z77X-UP4-TH motherboard, an Intel Core i7 2600k Overclocked at 4.8GHz, and 8GB of Corsair RAM.

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We will evaluate the GeForce GTX 680 and GeForce GTX 670 separately from each other. We will be looking at the video cards performance using the drivers listed above, in the games listed above. This will give us an idea of how the driver software has advanced over the year since the release of the GeForce GTX 600 series.