ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Win 7

We know NVIDIA and ATI have both been working hard on Windows 7 drivers, but who's been working harder?
Shawn Baker
Published Fri, Aug 14 2009 7:35 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:28 PM CDT
Manufacturer: none


ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
IntroductionToday FPS doesn't matter! We'll, that's not true, but what we intend to find out is when it comes to graphics card drivers under Windows 7, who does a better job? The problem is that there's no graphics card that performs exactly the same when it comes to testing an ATI based one and an NVIDIA one. What this means is that instead of saying that the NVIDIA card we used today scored X FPS and the ATI card scored Y FPS in the different operating systems, we'll be saying that the NVIDIA card performed X % and the ATI one Y % better or worse.It really does sound confusing, but when you have a look at the graphs you should have a better understanding. Today what we want to find out is which driver is better when comparing the same driver version to its Windows Vista counterpart. Questions we intend to answer include the following. Does ForceWare perform better in Vista or Windows 7? Does Catalyst perform better in Vista or Windows 7? Which driver gives us more positive gains overall?Like our VGA performance test earlier this week, there isn't much else to say. We'll jump forward to the test setup to find out exactly what's going on and we'll also see what cards we're using before we get into our benchmark results.

Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage

Test System SetupProcessor(s): Intel i7 920 @ 3.8GHz (190MHz x 20)Cooling: Noctua NH-U12P (Supplied by Noctua)Motherboard(s): GIGABYTE EX58-UD5 (Supplied by GIGABYTE)Memory: 3 X 2GB OCZ Technology PC-12800 DDR-3 8-8-8-24 (OCZ3G1600LV6GK) Hard Disk(s): Western Digital 300GB Velicorapter (Supplied by Western Digital)Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit Final OEM, Windows Vista SP2 64-BitDrivers: ForceWare 190.38, Catalyst 9.6Today we'll be using the same GIGABYTE GTX 285 2GB card we used in our other Windows 7 article. As for the ATI offering, we'll be using the Sapphire HD 4890 2GB Vapor-X card we looked at recently.Now, while I may have confused you in my introduction as to what exactly is going on here, hopefully when you look at the graphs you will have a better understanding. Speaking of which, our graphs have had to go through a bit of a change. Because we're working with positive and negative numbers, we've had to make it so our graphs can display that. Before we get into it, though, let me give you a quick idea of how exactly it works. If the GIGABYTE GTX 285 2GB scores 10 FPS in Windows Vista and 11 FPS in Windows 7, its score is reflected as +10%, not 10 and 11 FPS. Now, if the HD 4890 2GB Vapor-X from Sapphire doesn't offer 7 FPS in Windows Vista, but 8 FPS in Windows 7, its score is 14.28%. While the overall FPS isn't as good for the HD 4890, the Catalyst driver suite performs better making its driver overall better. Now, if both cards perform the same or less than .1%, the results will be shown as 0. While a number is seen, a bar won't be. So please make note that the left is the NVIDIA driver while the right is the ATI one.So, hopefully with everything understood we can get stuck into the results to see exactly what we have going on here. 3DMark VantageVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
In our first test we can see that there's very little performance difference when it comes to 3DMark Vantage and having a look at both drivers.

Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10

CINEBENCH R10Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10Developer Homepage: Homepage:
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
Under CINEBENCH the Catalyst driver saw an increase of 52.5% in the score. The ForceWare one on the other hand saw no difference.

Benchmarks - World in Conflict

World in ConflictVersion and / or Patch Used: or Level Used: Built-in TestDeveloper Homepage: Product Homepage:
World in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10).The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
At the lower resolution there was no change. Moving to 1920 x 1200 we saw the NVIDIA card perform better, while the ATI one again scored the same. At 2560 x 1600 we saw the ATI card drop about 8% in the minimum.As for the averages, we can see that the performance was the same to better with the ATI offering, giving us an increase in two of our three results including a 2.2% jump at 2560 x 1600 which is where we saw the larger drop in the minimum department.

Benchmarks - Crysis Warhead

Crysis WarheadVersion and / or Patch Used: unpatchedTimedemo or Level Used: AirfieldDeveloper Homepage: http://www.crytek.comProduct Homepage: It Here
Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of the original game through a sidestory plot involving Psycho, one of previous protagonist Nomad's allies. The game is a parallel story that follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a character from the original Crysis, as he faces his own trials and challenges on the other side of the island during the time period of the first game.It also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of CryEngine 2 using full DX10 extensions and is the first game developed by Crytek's Budapest studio.
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
Under Warhead we can see that for the most part there was very little change in the driver performance in the minimum department. With that said, though, at 1680 x 1050 we saw a 4.3% jump for the Catalyst 9.6, while a 4.1% drop was seen at 1920 x 1200 for the ForceWare 190.38.In the average department the ForceWare drivers saw a small bump at 1680, while both setups saw a drop at 2560 x 1600 with ATIs being greater.

Benchmarks - Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2Version and / or Patch Used: 1.01Timedemo or Level Used: Ranch LongDeveloper Homepage: Homepage: It Here
The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
At 1680 x 1050 we see that both cards performance is slightly down. 1920 sees the ForceWare still down, while a nice 5% jump is seen for the Catalyst. At 2560 both cards see a bump in performance with the Catalyst one being greater in this case.In the average department we can see across the board we have a small bump in performance for the Catalyst driver, while the ForceWare ones slip back ever so slightly.

Benchmarks - S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear Sky

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Clear SkyVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.5.07Timedemo or Level Used: Custom TimedemoDeveloper Homepage: Homepage: It Here
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, is the stand-alone prequel for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, a first-person shooter computer game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World.[3] The game consists of a roughly 50/50 mix of new areas and old, remodeled areas from the previous game. The X-ray graphics engine has been updated to version 1.5 and includes DirectX 10 support (later patch 1.5.06 included DirectX 10.1). Additionally, the AI received an overhaul to accommodate the new faction wars feature.
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
In the minimum department we see both cards perform the same. At the lower and higher resolution performance is slightly up. At 1920 x 1200, though, performance takes quite a big hit.In the average department we see the NVIDIA drivers again offer nothing to slightly less performance, while the ATI ones manage to offer us more performance at all resolutions.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AFOur high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.Far Cry 2
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
We can see the minimums are down for both cards. In the average department the ForceWare setup is still down, while the Catalyst one is just ever so slightly up.World In Conflict
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
ATI Catalyst vs. NVIDIA ForceWare VGA Performance in Windows 7
We can see a small drop in performance in the average department for the ForceWare setup, while the other results show no change at all.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsSo, which driver is better? Well, let's look at it like this. For every positive result, that driver set gets a +1. For no gain we see the driver get 0, while for a drop in performance the driver gets a -1. What all this results in is the ForceWare setup getting a -5 and the Catalyst one getting a +12.The winner by a clear margin is the Catalyst driver suite, making them the best driver for Windows 7. Of course this doesn't mean that you should install the Catalyst driver on your GTX 285, nor does it mean you can. But if you're using an ATI graphics card you can install Windows 7 knowing that for the most part your performance is going to be up more often than down.Now, the only real problem with this score is that it shows the ForceWare in a really negative light. To be honest, though, the drops in performance are extremely small with them quite often being less than 1%.So, while overall it might not look as positive for NVIDIA users, when looking at our other Windows 7 article we did squaring VGA performance between the two operating systems with the GTX 285 2GB from GIGABYTE and that 5% drop in performance results in only an FPS or two, which is really nothing to be worried about. Apart from the massive CINEBENCH jump for the Catalyst setup, we find that that the few + or - % does very little for your overall game experience and the chances are you're going to be happy with the performance you get out of Windows 7, be it on an ATI based graphics card or a NVIDIA one.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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