Gaming on Windows Vista – ATI versus NVIDIA

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ATI – CATALYST RC1 Drivers

ATI has their driver team burning the midnight oil and it shows by monthly driver updates that have been taking place for well over a year now. ATI’s claims that their Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) drivers continue to deliver exceptional stability and performance in Windows Vista and that is something we wanted to check out. ATI has WDDM drivers for Windows Vista, but the most recent drivers are not built into Vista RC1 build 5600 so users with Release Candidate 1 need to download the newer drivers if they’d like to have the latest and greatest drivers from these crazy canucks.

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The WDDM drivers were found to be stable and didn’t cause any issues with out test system using the ATI X1900XTX graphics card. After we benchmarked the 7.15.11.0 drivers we installed the new drivers. Once the 8.29.100.0 drivers were installed on our test system it crapped out in less than a minute of use on nothing more than the desktop.  Our monitor said it was out of scan range even though it was running well within its rated resolution and hertz. We tried with a few different monitors and had no luck.  We rebooted the system and hit F8 to load the last known good settings only to start having a series of blue screens of death (BSOD).

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Desperate to get the 8.29.100.0 drivers off our system we booted into Windows Vista RC1 in safe mode to remove the CATALYST drivers. Once we were in safe mod we gave ATI’s uninstall a test drive, but it too had issues and failed to operate correctly. We then manually removed the drivers the best we could.  Where is driver cleaner for Vista at when you need it?

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After another fresh instal of Vista RC1 we were able to get the 8.29.100.0 drivers up and benchmarking, but was still unable to run OpenGL games like DOOM 3.  After giving up on the newer drivers we benchmarked the WDDM drivers that came on Vista. The 7.15.11.0 drivers were found to be pretty stable for us, and like NVIDIA lacked support for multi-GPU support. Without Crossfire support we stuck with a single ATI X1900XTX graphics card for testing. We were able to run Call of Duty 2, F.E.A.R. and Serious Sam 2 on our GeForce 7800 series card, but was unable to get Far Cry to run correctly due to driver issues. It should be noted that something is seriously wrong with Serious Sam 2 as we benchmarked at three resolutions (800 x 600, 1024 x 768 and 1600 x 1200) with the average frames per second remaining the same across the board. In Serious Sam 2 benchmarking using our Branchester demo we scored 105 frames per second no matter the resolution. The chart below shows the average Frames Per Second (FPS) that each system scored for the game shown.  For a more detailed and larger chart click the image below.

F.E.A.R. Benchmark

For ATI we didn’t include the Serious Sam 2 scores in the overall average difference due to the already mentioned issues. Call of Duty 2 played extremely well on ATI graphics cards and to be honest I couldn’t see a difference while playing or benchmarking the game.  F.E.A.R. had an obvious performance hit, but it was close to that of NVIDIA.  I believe the 1024×768 scores for Serious Sam 2 are correct and again are on par with that of NVIDIA.

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