Although we have been quick to document all NVIDIA display driver changes, once they are publicly unveiled, and we usually publish the in-house results from our vigorous driver testing, we haven't done a massive display driver roundup in nearly a year since our last one in early 2005. At that time, FedoraCore3 was in its prime and the GeForce 7800GTX (G70) was yet to be publicly displayed, but since that point NVIDIA has been fierce at improving the quality of their alternative OS drivers. For our fourth quarter 2005 NVIDIA Linux driver comparison, we'll be benchmarking all of the 1.0-7XXX drivers, which consist of 1.0-7167, 1.0-7174, 1.0-7664, 1.0-7667, and 1.0-7676. Unlike the Windows BETA ForceWare 81.84 display drivers that were released earlier today, and contain many enhancements, NVIDIA has confirmed to us that they will not venture into any public Rel80 Linux releases until the end of October. They had also stated the Windows Rel80 drivers were released early as BETA, due to the launch of Black and White 2, and they are working heavily on making sure the first Linux Rel80 drivers are very solid. For additional information and some of our speculations on the Linux 1.0-8XXX drivers feel free to view this article. Not only have we revised the tested drivers, but also have revamped the OpenGL benchmarks as well as the hardware used for the driver testing. In our driver comparison from early 2005, we used a Gigabyte PCI Express 6600GT 128MB and for this article we continued to use an identical card for compatibility reasons with the Linux drivers as the card has been supported since the 1.0-6629 release. Also in our previous article we had used two independent systems for testing the various NVIDIA drivers, but with AGP 8x quickly departing from enthusiast systems we'll no longer be bringing those performance numbers and strictly keep to PCI Express x16. For this article, we also went with using an AMD Athlon 64 nForce4 system rather than the previous Intel Pentium 4 i915P setup. Although the processor supports 64-bit x86_64 instructions, we continued to use the 32-bit binaries for testing due to conflicts with two of our benchmarks. As far as software goes, we went with using Red Hat's FedoraCore4 (Stentz) release but strayed away from any major Linux kernel, Xorg, or related updates. To seek compatibility with all of the previous 1.0-7XXX NVIDIA driver releases we used the stock 2.6.11 kernel, Xorg 6.8.2, and GCC 4.0.0.
For benchmarking the NVIDIA drivers, we used Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, Unreal Tournament 2004, and Doom 3. More information on these gaming benchmarks as well as our settings can be found in our 7800GTX Linux Preview. Between the three Linux-native games we benchmarked each of the drivers with 16 unique runs. With that said, on the following pages are the results from our Q4-2005 NVIDIA Linux display driver comparison.
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