Finally, NVIDIA extends a welcome mat. Photo by Anna Irsch.

For graphics cards, drivers are everything: it’s just not possible to be on top of stability, performance, and functionality without access to new, stable drivers. But for Windows notebooks, unlike desktops, traditionally you had to turn to OEM PC vendors to get your NVIDIA graphics drivers. That would be fine, if PC vendors kept pace, but my near-universal experience has been that vendors are awful about drivers. Just finding drivers on many sites is a Herculean task, let alone getting something up-to-date.

That had meant that, for GPU gurus, the only alternative was a site like laptopvideo2go.com. That site is an awesome resource, with in-depth detailed descriptions of every new build (stable and experimental) from NVIDIA. To get the latest and greatest, you can use mods that allow these drivers to be installed on notebooks without having to go through your notebook vendor.

But nice as that is, it’s still terrific news that NVIDIA has finally made the switch to offering their drivers directly on their site. Now, when you go to NVIDIA.com, you get a prominent, front-page option for downloading notebook drivers:

NVIDIA Notebook Drivers

This covers just about everything, thanks to NVIDIA’s unified driver model. (NVS and GeForce are both there.) Notably missing: workstation-quality Quadro FX drivers. But this is still major progress. Both 32-bit and 64-bit Vista and XP are covered.

This is a non-issue for Apple users, of course, and NVIDIA has long offered direct downloads for Linux (in addition to open source, community-supported drivers), but it’s great news for Windows users.

It specifically allows NVIDIA to push the beta of release 179 before the certified drivers become available. I hope this also means that, with added feedback, we’ll get more reliable NVIDIA mobile drivers.

NVIDIA also now prominently links to their Graphics Plus campaign, which promotes the use of your GPU for tasks like GPGPU and PhysX. There are tons of downloads there, though in the past those haven’t been officially supported on notebooks; with the beta, they are. I’m giving them a try later today on my NVIDIA 9500M GT to how they run with this new beta driver release. One big bonus for visualists: a chance to get faster video encoding. Being a fan of open standards, I’m still rooting for OpenCL in place of NVIDIA’s proprietary CUDA technology for processing on the GPU, but there’s no question NVIDIA does a lot to promote the science of GPU use. (And, for the record, NVIDIA has also pledged to support and promote OpenCL alongside CUDA.)

In fact, NVIDIA is specifically pushing these new notebook drivers for these features:

  • Video applications
  • Distributed computing (GPUGRID, Folding@home, and the like)
  • PhysX in games like EA’s upcoming PC release of Mirror’s Edge (get the Dramamine handy!)

By astonishing coincidence, I find myself wearing red vinyl when I use ATI cards, too. I’ll have to get a green jumpsuit for my NVIDIA use. Photo of the Tokyo Game Conference by drdemento.

What about ATI? They helpfully let you select your notebook graphics card on the driver download page, then respond with:

Currently AMD does not provide any driver support for Mobility Radeon™ products. All driver and technical support for Mobility Radeon™ products is provided by the original laptop or notebook manufacturer. The drivers that are available for download at ati.amd.com are for desktop products only.

To download Windows Vista Mobility Radeon™ drivers or driver updates for your laptop or notebook product, please visit your laptop or notebook manufacturer’s website.

Ah, yes, because really, there’s nothing computer users enjoy more than dealing with notebook manufacturers. So, ATI, I hope you follow NVIDIA’s lead on this. If they can do it, so can you. We love your stuff, so help us run the latest drivers, okay? (By the way, does anyone know if there’s an ATI equivalent of laptopvideo2go?)

Thanks to Josh Ott (of superDraw fame) for the tip!

  • http://www.tweakingknobs.com TweakingKnobs

    ATI really sucks ! i have an asus g2 , and my graphic card a movility radeon x1800 is the worst thing that has ever happened to me in my whole life.

    so dont buy ati.

    I will get a macbook pro as soon as possible with a nvidia card, then i will be able to work in a serious way.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Really? What's been your problem with the X1800? Specifics?

    Generally, I've found the ATI drivers to be *more* stable than NVIDIA, not less, at least on the consumer cards. (NV does do pretty nice, stable drivers for their pricier workstation cards, but unless you're buying a Lenovo, etc. they're hard to find.)

    I am really happy with this NV 9500M GT now, though. And while NVIDIA was a mess when Vista first came out, ATI wasn't exactly sparkling-clean, either – Vista made massive changes to the driver model that seemed to cause issues for MS and its OEMs alike, happily since resolved.

  • Steve W

    Wonder how much people wanting to use the 8600M GT under Windows on MacBooks has to do with this… A notebook vendor with their chipset and no interest in Windows goodies.

  • http://www.tweakingknobs.com TweakingKnobs

    Well, my opengl selection is very slow, this is a pain when using blender, also in blender i have slow dessappearing menus wich also sucks, it sucks when mixing video in real time with resolume for example, it makes ableton live's vumeters and so live in general slow, it really sucks.

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @TweakingKnobs: interestingly, a recent ATI update screwed up OpenGL for Josh Ott. He turned on "wait for vertical sync" and it seemed to help.

    Slowing down Live is really bizarre, though. I'd definitely look other possibilities for driver versions, as well. It's a pain, but that's definitely not normal (not that I need to say that.)

  • http://www.thehappyplanets.com humblesound

    Unfortunately they are not providing them for the Thinkpad W500 I was thinking of saving up for.

    Too bad, too!

  • Brendan

    Are you aware of the problems with 8600m and 8400m GPUs? Go google it, it's B-A-D. Seems nvidia / major laptop oems are waiting for it to go away without addressing the core problem.

    Mewonder if NVidia has released these presumably downclocked those drivers to avoid addressing the warranty issues (which they have been dodging for months) on those faulty GPUs. Bet you'll take a performance hit.

    Comparitive Driver Benchmarks anyone?