Product: Windows 7 GPU Performance
Authour: Alex 'AlexV' Voicu
Editor: Charles 'Lupine' Oliver
Date: March 24th, 2009
Win 7 and GPU drivers: Vista redux or smooth sailing?

Hai gais ... long time no see! Whilst we're busily trying to replicate the long and contorted development cycle of the K8L (read, we're just as late with our Deneb review as the original Barcelona was), we've broken away from the wonderful world of ALUs, AGUs and cache hierarchies to bring you a quick look at what's cooking in the graphics arena.

So, we heard you like Windows 7?

Windows 7 is currently a sweetheart for enthusiasts everywhere, based on the way it behaves in its publicly available beta-ish incarnations. Claims amounting to it being the bestest Microsoft OS ever are anything but scarce - the validity of which is difficult to gauge at this point, albeit odds are looking good. Win 7 is pretty much a rounding off of the much maligned Vista, taking away the sharp edges of that particular construct. A tweak there, a fix here, a readily available driver/software base to make the transition smooth, as opposed to the abrupt break Vista brought and voila, where there was vitriol there remains only honey.

Whilst we're not going to discuss the OS in detail, as many aspects are still not disclosed(able), we are going to look how ATI and nVidia are handling the preparations for its expected 2009 release. Both IHVs have Win 7 drivers available, and we just happen to have the needed hardware to peek at how they fare. Be advised that this is a preview, with both the OS and the drivers being non-final, in spite of the fact that, as you'll soon see, it would be hard to notice it in practice were it not for the disclaimers.

ATI and coming early

Last week, we received word from our friends in ATI's driver team that they were gearing up to release “the industry's first unified driver to support both Windows Vista and Windows 7”. Say that really really fast and see if it brings a tear to your eye. No? Ok then, let's move on ... Also included in the email that carried those awe-inspiring words was a rather cheeky question: “Would you like to play with them?”. No guys, really, we wouldn't ... after all, it's not like we're graphics nutters, not at all :P Of course, the answer given in practice was quite different, and soon enough we were installing Win 7 build 7057 to play with the provided driver build.

As we were doing the above, a thought was born: why not look at how the significant other on the graphics market is handling the Win 7 affair? We're of course talking about the men in green, nVidia. Whilst we don't have access to their entire lineup (yet), we do have one of their babies, and one that we're rather fond of. Conveniently enough, it also fits into an interesting competitive niche, so it made the prospect even more appealing. Long story short, the big “n” is in.

Getting back to the initial story thread, it's worth mentioning that ATI is quite proud of its Win 7 driver, which was released on the 18th of this month as the 9.3 Catalysts. Performance increase versus Vista and a full WDDM 1.1 implementation (more on this a tad later), as well as a very early release (Win 7 hasn't even hit RC status) are some of the things that gave the likes of Andrew Dodd or Terry Makedon warm fuzzy feelings (hi guys!). For nV things are a tad different since their publicly available Win 7 build are still tagged as a preview build, and they're not yet joined into the main driver body, existing as a separate entity (you have disjunctive builds/packages for Vista and 7 respectively). We expect this to be revised in the coming months, as Microsoft comes nearer and nearer to releasing its new creation.

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