After re-testing every AMD Catalyst driver from 2011, the tables have now turned to do the same for the NVIDIA binary graphics drivers from 2011 as the year comes to an end.
Again, it is something that has been happening at Phoronix going back to 2005. This year was a fairly normal year for NVIDIA and their Unix graphics driver team. There really were not any breakthroughs, but they continue to be at a near-parity with their Windows driver in terms of features and performance. The code-base is largely shared between their Linux/Solaris/BSD/Windows graphics drivers, but the non-Windows drivers are currently lacking when it comes to GeForce 400/500 "Fermi" overclocking support and a few other items. NVIDIA continues to provide Linux support for new graphics cards at launch in their binary driver, but they still provide no form of open-source support.
The drivers being tested for this 2011 year-end recap are all of their major binary Linux graphics drivers going back to the end of 2010. Unlike AMD, NVIDIA does offer up beta graphics drivers, but those ones were not tested in this article since they are close to the same numbers as the official releases. Before getting to the OpenGL performance results, here is a few words about some of the driver versions released this calendar year.
270.18: The NVIDIA driver now zeroes out memory by default when allocating system memory. For this driver and throughout 2011, NVIDIA Linux developers continued providing prompt support for new X.Org and Linux kernel releases -- an area where AMD's Linux developers have generally lagged greatly behind. This driver also shipped with a new library, NVML, for "programmatic access to static information and monitoring data for NVIDIA GPUs."
270.41.06: Lots of new graphics support in the GeForce 400/500 "Fermi" hardware series, support for new GLX protocol extensions, and various bug-fixes. Common to most of the NVIDIA Linux driver releases this year was work on the 3D Vision support and continued maintenance on their VDPAU (Video Decode and Presentation API for Unix) video acceleration support.
275.09.07: New hardware support, GL_EXT_x11_sync_object support, more 3D Vision Pro work, a base mosaic X configuration option, and other work.
275.21: More 3D Vision Pro options were added to the Linux driver.
285.03: Improved 2D RENDER extension performance for Fermi-based graphics processors.
290.10: Improved Xinerama performance in certain configurations and support for improving performance by caching compiled OpenGL shaders to the disk.