Nvidia releases unified graphics driver

After spending a few weeks of trials in the beta dungeon, Nvidia's 256 'Verde' drivers have finally made it out of the Microsoft WHQL labs, supporting both desktop and laptop GPUs.

One of the principles behind the new drivers is that owners of laptops with Nvidia GPUs will no longer have to wait for their laptop manufacturer to come up with its own graphics driver, which is often a long way behind Nvidia's comparable desktop offering.

The only exception to this rule at the moment is Sony Vaio laptops, which Nvidia says still aren't supported by the new driver. However, other laptops with anything from a GeForce 8200M to a GeForce GTS 360M will be.

Meanwhile, owners of Nvidia desktop GPUs get a broader range of support. The new 257.21 driver will play nicely with anything from a GeForce 6-series integrated chipset GPU to Nvidia's latest GeForce GTX 400-series chips, and it even supports Nvidia's Ion and Quadro GPUs too.

Other notable features in the new software include support for Blu-Ray 3D if you have an Nvidia 3D Vision stereoscopic 3D kit. There's also now support for OpenGL 4 if you have a Fermi GPU, and the PhysX software has been upgraded to version 9.10.0223. Bear in mind, however, that PhysX requires a Cuda-supporting GPU, which means you'll need a GeForce 8-series chip or above.

As well as all this, the new driver adds support for ridiculous anti-aliasing modes if you have a three-way SLI setup. This includes a 96x mode for Fermi GPUs, and a 48x mode for GeForce 200-series chips. There are some new goodies in the driver control panel too, including the ability to assign a dedicated GPU for PhysX, and specify which GPUs you want to use for Cuda apps in a multi-GPU configuration.

Of course, no new graphics driver would be complete without some performance tweaks, and Nvidia is promising plenty of speed boosts for owners of its new GeForce GTX 400-series chips.

The company claims the new driver can enable up to a 14 per cent boost in Aliens vs Predator at 1920 x 1200 with tessellation enabled, and even up to 40 per cent in Metro 2033 with SLI running at 1920 x 1200 with 4x anti-aliasing, 16x anisotropic filtering and tessellation enabled.

Meanwhile, benchmarkers could also see a boost of up to five per cent in 3DMark Vantage using the Performance and Extreme presets. Plus, if you have the free Stone Giant demo then Nvidia reckons SLI configurations could see a performance increase of up to 110 per cent at 2560 x 1600 with tessellation and depth-of-field enabled.

There are plenty of bug fixes too, and you can find all the gritty details in the release notes.

Nvidia's WHQL 257.21 driver is available to download now.