Vista SP1 (Beta) and ATi Drivers: Not a Great Mix

Continuing our line of Vista SP1 stories, we’ve been testing the leaked version of Windows Vista SP1 and have some interesting results with regards to the WDDM layer.

Since Vista RTM, one of the biggest sources of consternation and BSODs on Windows has been the graphics drivers. From ATi to nVidia, hardware manufacturers were very late in the game, not producing final drivers until January and February (3-4 months after the official release); and even then, their quality was definitely sub-par with what we’d come to expect with Windows Vista.

Perhaps we’re being unduly harsh here – after all, Windows NT driver developers had had over a decade of testing and real-world experience with the NT graphics driver subsystem, and here they were, required to learn anew everything from writing the drivers to getting them to work with Vista’s new (and stringent) driver protocols and more. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that driver-development teams at both nVidia and ATi just weren’t up to scratch.

Since then, bug reports have diminished as the list of issues and incompatibilities slowly were slowly vanquished, one by one – with nVidia undeniably in the lead. nVidia’s lead in driver reliability has grown even further with SP1: the same ATi drivers that were working just fine under RTM with the same hardware (and running the same games) are now BSODing under Windows Vista SP1.

Obviously no one is to blame here – not yet, anyway. Windows Vista SP1 isn’t even in beta yet (though it certainly isn’t alpha!), and ATi’s drivers weren’t intended for use with anything other than Vista RTM and its immediate updates. It’s quite simple, actually: if you’re a gamer using ATi and interested in checking out SP1, think twice before you act. And remember, forewarned is forearmed.

12 thoughts on “Vista SP1 (Beta) and ATi Drivers: Not a Great Mix

  1. Standard fare for ATi, really. The company seems to have a long-standing tradition of producing nice hardware and horrid drivers. Hopefully things will improve now that AMD is at the controls. We’ll see. :)

  2. In a manner of speaking. I have a feeling not much has changed at ATi just yet. Just as nVidia took their time when they bought out 3dfx, I have a feeling AMD is taking their time with regard to making changes in ATi. Since ATi isn’t just a little startup, AMD has a lot of stuff to sift through in order to get ATi fully assimilated into the company.

    Slightly unrelated, part of me is wondering if AMD plans to continue using the ATi brand for graphics adapters, chipsets, and the like, or if they’re going to drop it and slap ‘AMD’ on everything.

  3. Umm, just to clear things up a little. If you check most of the video card review sites you will see that Ati’s drivers have been far better than Nvidia’s on Vista. Only recently in the last month or two have Nvidia caught up.

    Also how is it Ati’s fault if a new service pack, (which is in beta btw), is causing problems with their drivers. Do you suppose that just maybe the issue is with the service pack???

  4. Did you bother to read the article, even?

    Obviously no one is to blame here – not yet, anyway. Windows Vista SP1 isn?t even in beta yet (though it certainly isn?t alpha!), and ATi?s drivers weren?t intended for use with anything other than Vista RTM and its immediate updates.

  5. Just curious, which specific pre-release version of SP1 was used by neosmart? Which ATI driver version? Which ATI hardware? Which bugcheck codes? (0x116 etc?) When does the bugcheck happen? In specific games or all the time? Were the dump files submitted to Microsoft via the WER console so they can be debugged? More specific info should help alleviate fear/uncertainty/doubt and also boost readership at the same time.

  6. You have got to be kidding.  I finally gave up in disgust over nVidia.  After several tries never got the drivers right for my 7900GTX or the 8800 series for that matter.  Bought an ATI and it is very stable with Vista Ultimate.  I have had no problems.  Read the blogs at the nVidia site if you think their drivers actually work.

  7. TC, you won’t be getting an argument from me. The ATi drivers for Vista final are pretty good. But obviously they’re built using some hacks or taking common quirks into consideration, because they just don’t work as well on SP1 as they do on RTM – whereas nVidia’s do.

    In our forums, we’ve seen plenty of people with an infinite number of problems because they’re still using AGP ATi cards with the latest ATi drivers – solved by switching to nVidia (still AGP).

    I’m sure that neither is perfect – almost all the problems with Windows Vista stem from bad drivers or a conflict between the drivers and certain hardware configurations. Windows Vista was designed by developers on certain machines, and no amount of beta testing and deployment trials can change the fact that at this point, it just doesn’t work universally on all hardware platforms – even with almost identical configurations.

    The world of drivers is a deep and dark place to delve into, and we understand that. Hopefully no one got the impression that we recommend that everyone switch to nVidia over ATi or vice versa just because of an issue or two – all it takes is a single Windows Hotfix/Patch, a single driver update, or a single bug to bring an entire company down to its heels – all you can do is pray, wait, and hope that it doesn’t happen to you.

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