Just over a month ago we published our AMD driver analysis article looking at the progress two generations of AMD flagship GPUs, the HD 7970 and R9 290X, had made with driver updates. We compared each flagship card’s launch drivers to the latest drivers and calculated the improvements in a variety of games and benchmarks. Now that we’ve done AMD it is of course time to do the same for Nvidia. We will be taking Nvidia’s last two GTX series flagships, the GTX 680 for the GTX 600 series and the GTX 780 Ti for the GTX 700 series, and comparing their launch drivers to the current latest drivers. This means for both graphics cards we will be testing two scenarios on identical test systems, the first scenario is with the drivers the graphics cards shipped with at launch and the second is the most current driver release for the graphics cards at the time of doing the testing.
Nvidia’s GTX 680 launched on March 22nd 2012, exactly four months after AMD’s HD 7970 launched. At launch the Nvidia GTX 680 shipped with Nvidia Forceware 301.10 drivers. The GTX 780 Ti launched on the 7th of November 2013 with the special press driver package 331.70, although this was identical to the 331.65 package except with “official” GTX 780 Ti support. We used the 331.65 package since this supports the GTX 780 Ti and is identical to the unavailable 331.70 package. The latest driver package for both these Nvidia graphics cards is 340.52. The story with Nvidia is a similar one to AMD, both the flagships of last two generations are based on the same microarchitecture which is, in Nvidia’s case, 28nm Kepler. This means that the GTX 680 has had 2.5 years of driver updates while the GTX 780 Ti hasn’t even had a year yet. Of course with the GTX 780 Ti being based on the same Kepler 28nm architecture as the GTX 680 by the time the GTX 780 Ti was released many of the largest performance optimisations had already been made for the Kepler architecture. This means the GTX 680 will show greater performance improvements compared to the GTX 780 Ti. If you read our equivalent AMD driver analysis you will see that the story with the HD 7970 and R9 290X is nearly identical.
One thing I would like to note before we dive into the results is that you shouldn’t use these results to compare the GTX 680 to the HD 7970, or the R9 290X to the GTX 780 Ti. Why? Because for our Nvidia tests we used Gigabyte’s GHz Edition GTX 780 Ti and MSI’s Lightning Edition GTX 680, both of these are heavily overclocked Nvidia cards out of the box. For the AMD tests we used two cards that were close to, if not at, stock speeds. This was not done intentionally to favour Nvidia but these were the only non-reference cards we had to hand, and we only use non-reference cards as we want to avoid inconsistencies associated with thermal throttling that AMD and Nvidia cards both experience. In short, Nvidia’s results have a 10%~ or more advantage than the AMD ones due to the factory overclocked cards tested. For those who wonder why we didn’t just downclock the Nvidia cards to stock speeds, well we could have done that but the Turbo boosting baked into Kepler cards means no two cards will perform the same even when clocked at the same speed.