NVIDIA ForceWare 55 Hands-On

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NVIDIA ForceWare 55 Hands-On
New Features for Enthusiasts

By: Chris Angelini
February 18, 2004

It used to be that graphics manufacturers dedicated themselves to incorporating nifty features into their hardware, besting the competition from a specification point of view, at the very least.  Developer resources limit the usefulness of these proprietary tricks, though.  And as such, coding for one manufacturer's unique feature set over another's only exacerbates the time-consuming process of bringing a modern game to market.  Microsoft?s DirectX 9 API simplifies the process by proposing a minimum set of specifications for hardware manufacturers to support.  Software developers, in turn, can write for that guideline, optimizing to specific architectures as needed.

Although NVIDIA's current architecture is thought to require quite a bit of optimization in order to procure competitive performance, it still conforms to the DirectX 9 specification, albeit in a different way than ATI.  Consequently, NVIDIA's most recent developments involve software - optimizations to the run-time compiler, application-specific optimizations that purportedly conform to requisite standards for image quality, and driver-level features intended to streamline usability.  The latest ForceWare (NVIDIA's branded driver suite) update focuses primarily on that last point.  That is, it incorporates a number of improvements aimed at improving your interactions with NVIDIA hardware.

As a side note, NVIDIA made a last-minute decision not to publicly release version 56.56, the first driver revision in its ForceWare 55 lineup, due to a reported performance-related bug in the Unreal Tournament 2004 Demo.  We were not able to reproduce the bug on our test systems, however.  According to Brian Burke, an NVIDIA representative, add-in board partners and system integrators will offer the WHQL-certified 56.56 driver to customers interested in using it.

Application Profiles
Settings for each of your games

Long available in a number of custom tweaking utilities, Application Profiles allow you to change driver settings on a per-application basis.  For example, if you play Command and Conquer with 4x anti-aliasing and Halo with a combination of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, you can opt to have each application invoke those settings when each game is launched.  The profiles are relatively basic, consisting of anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, image quality, and v-sync controls.  That's certainly a good start, but we'd like to see future versions of ForceWare add more advanced profiling, like per-application control over multi-monitor support for applications that need to be locked onto a single display, like Final Fantasy XI. 

  

Configuring individual profiles is actually fairly easy.  You simply select an application from the hard drive, name the profile, and assign its settings.  Every time thereafter, your custom settings will be applied. 

Accessibility
Easier than ever to use

One of the most difficult tasks in adding functionality is ensuring that it's accessible to the user - both in terms of associated documentation for ease of understanding and its location in the driver.  Historically, comprehensive drivers have included separate tabs for OpenGL and Direct3D, each with a corresponding set of controls.  ForceWare 55 sports a clean layout with unified settings that offer simultaneous control over anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, and image quality. Advanced users have access to a check box that exposes some of the more involved graphics options.  Without question, it's the most intuitive control panel we've used, which, coupled with the Application Profile feature, is very functional.

  

NVIDIA's driver team even simplified the mechanism for delving into hardware performance settings.  A right-click on the desktop brings up a familiar menu with a notable addition.  On a system with one display, clicking the Analog Display option initializes the graphics driver property page.

Another subtle enhancement is the pop-up help bubbles that appear when you mouse-over certain settings.  In the picture below, the pop-up tip tells the user how to enable anisotropic filtering.  NVIDIA claims that all settings are documented as such, but we'd be more comfortable saying that a handful of settings have corresponding pop-up bubbles.

The final accessibility-related addition is a option to play selected video files on a television, available by right-clicking the file.  This only works on systems with an attached television, and won't get in the way if you're using a standard multi-monitor array. 

nView 3.5 and Performance 


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