Last week, NVIDIA held a conference call and presentation to let us know about updates to their Verde driver program. Initially rolled out in 2008, the Verde program was a way to deal with the difficult problem of providing updated drivers for laptops. Most OEMs will only update their official driver if there's a critical bug, and a single game failing to run properly generally doesn't qualify as "critical". The original commitment was to provide at least quarterly driver updates, which was good though obviously there was room for improvement.

In February, AMD finally came up with a solution for the mobile driver dilemma. Similar to NVIDIA's Verde program, they would support the vast majority of mobile systems with driver updates. There were a few differences worth noting, however: first, AMD made their program opt-out instead of opt-in; second and more important, AMD committed to releasing mobile driver updates concurrent with their desktop drivers. In other words, AMD will have monthly mobile drivers for any supported laptop. At present, the only laptops that aren't included come from a few OEMs, specifically Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba. Also, laptops with switchable graphics (i.e. HP's Envy 13) are not on the list, for much the same reasons that NVIDIA doesn't support switchable graphics with their Verde program. In case you missed it, the reason switchable graphics platforms aren't included is that AMD/NVIDIA need to sync with an Intel driver, which makes things quite a bit more difficult.

With their new Catalyst Mobility program, AMD technically had the lead for mobile GPU drivers. This of course brings us to today's announcement. NVIDIA and AMD/ATI both like to lay claim to being "first", but who did it first is about as useful as the "First!" posts you sometimes see on message boards. ATI had generic mobile drivers starting way back in 2004, but a lot of manufacturers had no interest in such support. In fact, IT departments are often against drivers that don't come from the laptop manufacturer, so over the years few laptops opted to work with the ATI mobile drivers. NVIDIA suggests (rightly in our view) that their Verde program has elevated mobile driver support to a new level, and with their work AMD seems to have had more success in getting manufacturers on board their new program. Now NVIDIA is matching AMD's monthly driver schedule by committing to release both desktop and mobile drivers at the same time.

With the Verde 197 Release (32-bit, Vista, and XP are also available), NVIDIA has laptop and desktop drivers that are essentially the same version. The laptops are currently version 197.16 while desktops are 197.45, but that's close enough in our book. We should start seeing the same version on both mobile and desktop platforms with the next release (which appears to be version 256), and that will also add support for all the latest Optimus laptops. The next release should come out in May.

Going forward, NVIDIA says that any official release available through their download pages (i.e. not a hotfix or a limited release for a new GPU) should come out with both mobile and desktop versions. Included with the 197 mobile driver is support for any GeForce 8M or later, Quadro NVS, and Quadro FX GPU. (Sorry, there's no new DX9 GPU support.) New to the list of OEMs on board with NVIDIA's Verde program are Sony VAIO laptops. The only current mobile solutions that don't get support are switchable graphics laptops (i.e. Alienware M11x, ASUS UL30/50/80Vt, etc.) If NVIDIA can work something out with Intel so they can bundle an Intel driver, we might see those brought into the fold as well, but don't hold your breath.

Honestly, that's the big news with the 197 release, but NVIDIA did add a few other features. They also brought out their CUDA, PhysX, and DirectCompute drums to make some noise again, but there's not much new to say there. Games like Batman and Mirror's Edge make good use of PhysX, and programs like Badaboom and vReveal leverage CUDA to accelerate video processing tasks. The only new feature in 197 is extended 3D Vision support for laptops, in particular with external displays. Going forward, we should see NVIDIA's 3DTV Play software in the near future which will provide 3D support without the need for NVIDIA's glasses with a supported 3D TV (i.e. no need for a 3D Vision kit). Blu-ray 3D support will also be coming in the next Verde release.

You can view all of the slides below, which provide some specifics at the end about which 3D displays will work with the current drivers. Hopefully we can now stop talking about mobile drivers as a problem, and simply review the hardware. Speaking of which, NVIDIA is still behind in one critical area on mobile GPUs: DirectX 11 support. Our crystal ball suggests that it might be six months or so before we start seeing mobile DX11 parts from NVIDIA (no surprise considering how power hungry Fermi is). On the AMD side, we'd guess that six months will also be enough time for them to come up with a solution similar to Optimus. I guess we'll just have to wait and see, as right now NVIDIA has the better GPU switching technology while ATI has DX11 GPUs.

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  • Lonyo - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    When ATI finally released some mobile drivers, I jumped on them (well, I downloaded a leaked beta as soon as it appeared) because I wanted to try and get DXVA working.
    I'm not sure if the driver did it or some other tweaks, but whatever.

    The point is that this finally means no issue with buying ATI or NV powered laptops (no thanks Intel), and having updated drivers (finally) to eliminate problems.

    With my old (NV - but that's not relevant) laptop I had major trouble with VGA output to a TV but obviously there was no way to try new drivers.
    Thankfully now both vendors are pushing for driver updates which is great for consumers. It's been far too long.

    Intel, unfortunately, manage to put out crap still. I tried to update my Netbook drivers to sort DXVA support. The driver update resulted in a BSOD whenever I tried to play a video which wanted to use DXVA (it's a known problem) and even rolling back drivers didn't fix it.

    Now both NV and ATI can give (knowledgeable) consumers the confidence to buy a laptop and not worry about possible driver issues down the line.

    Three cheers for both companies managing to do what they should have done a long time ago. Now we just need some pressure on Intel.
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    Which Intel GPU were you trying to get DXVA to work with? I'd assume the GMA 500, since no other netbooks that I'm aware of have DXVA capability. Anyway, my experience when testing a GMA 500 laptop were questionable at best... it worked fine for video playback sometimes, but the system was prone to crashing.
  • Nehemoth - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    In another note verde is the word Green just in spanish.

    Should sound fancy for anglospeakers people
  • eddyg17 - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    It still sounds fancy even if you speak spanish.
  • Slaimus - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    Many people have been using modding software that configures desktop drivers so that they will install on mobile graphics cards. All of the mobile power features appears to be enabled and work properly.

    Is there really any difference between the two drivers if the desktop ones had those features anyways, but were just disabled by the installer?
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, April 28, 2010 - link

    When I tried hacked/modded drivers in the past, performance was subject to changes on a lot of titles. Some games would work fine while others would be up to 30% slower than the old official drivers. On a gaming laptop, it's probably not as critical, but stuff like Optimus and switchable graphics makes use of anything beyond officially sanctioned drivers unlikely to work. Ultimately, whether hacked drivers were okay or not is made moot by the new ATI and NVIDIA release schedules.
  • Wolfpup - Friday, April 30, 2010 - link

    ...because AMD isn't actually posting their notebook drivers in the relevant part of their website. Drill through the product selector thingee, and it just tells you to contact your manufacturer-same as before. I know they're on there (or were), but finding them isn't straight forward.

    IMO that doesn't bode well for AMD being serious about this. Nor does the fact that even on the desktop AMD has never taken drivers as seriously as Nvidia. I've always been willing to take a lower performing part with Nvidia's superb drivers than something better without, and I've always regretted going AMD when I have, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. (Literally the last time I personally had problems with Nvidia drivers was I think 1998...or 7? in the first two weeks of owning my shiny new RIVA TNT.) ...though obviously this is overall a VERY good development for notebooks!

    It's long been ludicrious that companies were selling $1000-4000 gaming notebooks...that couldn't actually game because of lack of drivers. Worse still considering how many people-including us gamers-have for various reasons switched over to laptops (and people claiming laptops can't game are completely out of it). I've never understood the IT thing either, given that you just don't have problems normally with Nvidia's drivers, while you frequently will run into weirdness even in general desktop stuff with drivers shipped with a system. Updating drivers? Usually not a bad thing.
  • JackNSally - Saturday, May 1, 2010 - link

    Like overheating your video card when playing Blizzard games? Bad hardware in laptops that failed big time? They BOTH have their weaknesses and strengths. I'd take sub-par drivers over overheating drivers or straight up bad hardware.
  • matheusber - Sunday, May 2, 2010 - link

    I want nVidia to burn in hell. My 7600M is able to play Left4Dead (both 1 and 2) and due to drivers that looks like crap I can't. When nvidia bought 3dfx it was a great driver company, now I don't think it anymore. shame I cant change the gpu on my laptop ...


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