Taking A Closer Look At Bioshock With NVIDIA Drivers

Bioshock and NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra

After picking up a copy of Take 2 Interactives latest hit title, Bioshock I figured I'd pull an all nighter of gaming.  The next thing I knew I was benchmarking video card drivers as I was updating my drivers trying to improve performance.  Before I knew it I had benchmark results for NVIDIA Forceware 158.18, 162.22 and 163.44 drivers that showed great performance increases for just a few driver releases. If you've been looking for a fun DirectX 10 game to us on your gaming system then Bioshock might be in order as well as a driver update for your graphics card as you are about to find out.  

My Personal System That I Tested Bioshock on

Before we move on to driver testing it should be noted that all of the testing was done on my gaming rig, which consists of an Intel Core 2 Quad QX6700 processor running at 333MHz FSB on an XFX 680i SLI motherboard.  An XFX GeForce 8800 Ultra video card and 4GB of Mushkin DDR2 memory with 4-4-4-12 timings at ~1GHz top off the system.  The processor is cooled by a CoolIT Eliminator CPU cooler and the entire system is powered by a Corsair HX620W power supply. Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit was the operating system of choice.

Testing the Latest Three Drivers

Since 2K didn't include a benchmark script or utility in BIOSHOCK I used FRAPS version 2.9.1 to capture the frame rates for 120 seconds at two different scenes that I personally selected from the game. If you don't know anything about Bioshock, let me set the scene for you. After your plane crashes into icy uncharted waters, you discover a rusted bathysphere and descend into Rapture, a city hidden beneath the sea. Constructed as an idealistic society for a hand picked group of scientists, artists and industrialists, the idealism is no more. Now the city is littered with corpses, wildly powerful guardians roam the corridors as little girls loot the dead, and genetically mutated citizens ambush you at every turn and you get to kill them.

BIOSHOCK on NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra

The first scene that I selected was right at the beginning of the game after the introduction cinematic.  This scene places you as a plane crash survivor bobbing up and down in the water with realistic looking water, fire and smoke. 

BIOSHOCK Driver Testing Results Scene 1

The very first scene in Bioshock will bring your computer to your knees as our overclocked Intel Core 2 Quad QX6700 and factory clocked XFX GeForce 8800 Ultra was getting just 30FPS on NVIDIA Forware Releae 158.18 and 162.22 drivers. The latest Forceware 163.44 Beta drivers nearly doubles the frame rate over the other drivers and comes in averaging 58.075 after several FRAPS benchmarks were averaged together! 

BIOSHOCK on NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra

The second part of the game that I wanted to benchmark was about an hour further along into the game in the 'funeral home' as I like to call it.  The lighting, smoke, water, sparks and colorful walls were pretty intense here, so I fired up FRAPS to see what this scene was like.

BIOSHOCK Driver Testing Results Scene 2

After running circles for three sets of two minutes on each driver we came up a bit dizzy, but the results were able to show impressive driver improvement over the months before BIOSHOCK was released.  The Forceware 163.44 Beta drivers are clearly in the lead and while they didn't double the performance level versus the Forceware 158.18 drivers they came close.  Just by updating the video card drivers we were able to pick up 34 frames per second, which is a 69.4% performance improvement!

Performance Improvements Often Come At A Price

It wouldn't be fair or very legit to our readers if I left out the part about some problems I encountered when using the NVIDIA Forceware 163.44 Beta drivers.  After removing the old drivers and rebooting my system I installed the Forceware 163.44 Beta drivers and again rebooted.  The system came back up and after checking the driver version in device manager, I fired up FRAPS and Bioshock to continue on with benchmarking. I loaded the first benchmarking scene I was running and after two of the three benchmark runs the game suddenly exited and I couldn't move my mouse. Then the little windows popped up on the lower right hand corner saying the display device is not responding (you're screwed is what it should say).  Right after that popped up I met the great Microsoft Blue Screen of Death, which isn't what you want to see at 3:30am!


I luckly had my camera sitting on my desk, so I was able to capture this moment before all the physical memory was dumped and the system restarted.  It looks like the nvlddmkm.sys was the issue and that is obviously a display driver issue. The strange part is after the system rebooted the system ran perfectly and we never encountered this BSOD again!  So if you try out NVIDIA Forceware 163.44 Beta drivers and experience this BSOD, don't freak out totally as we haven't seen it again.

After doing some research on the BSOD that I remembered the two hot fixes that Microsoft released just over a week ago for DirectX 10 and Vista. One of these Hot Fixes improves stability for memory intensive DirectX 10 applications on graphics cards with greater than 512MB of memory. Since the XFX GeForce 8800 Ultra has more than 512MB of memory and didn't have the hot fix this could have been the cause! Both of these hot fixes improve stability and performance, especially at high resolutions, so be sure to grab them if you are on Vista and playing Bioshock.

The first hotfix improves multi-GPU performance and can be found here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/936710

The second hot fix improves stability for memory intensive DirectX 10 applications on graphics cards with greater than 512MB of memory: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/940105

ARTICLE UPDATE: NVIDIA Contacted LR to let us know that there are not just two, but four Hotfixes that GeForce users with Vista should update with. They are listed here.


Final Thoughts and Conclusions

BioShock has amazing graphics that uses advanced smoke, water effects and soft shadows that really start to show off assets that DirectX 10 graphics cards can offer gamers. It is our understating that NVIDIA’s Developer Relations team has worked closely with the 2K during the development of the game to ensure optimal performance and image quality with their drivers. The NVIDIA Forceware 164.33 drivers are clearly developed with the game Bioshock in mind, so if you picked up a copy of Bioshock and haven't updated your drivers you should as the scenes I tested showed between a 69-98% performance improvement when going from the 158.18 to 163.44 drivers!

If you already own a system that is running Microsoft Windows Vista and have a GeForce 8 series graphics card then pick up Bioshock and let your DirectX 10 video card stretch it's legs.  At $44.99 it's just a fraction of what that DirectX 10 video card already cost you!

Legit Bottom Line:  Before you play Bioshock make sure you install the latest Hot Fixes for Vista and use NVIDIA Forceware 163.44 Drivers.