Not enjoying the view

Written by Brett Thomas

February 10, 2007 | 14:11

Tags: #7950 #crossfire #gx2 #r600 #sli #vista #windows #x1950

Companies: #ati #microsoft #nvidia

A note and update:
The guys at NVIDIA are really on the ball. The day my column went live, we received contact from the company directly, anxious to discuss why, as a consumer, I felt this way and how the problems could be addressed. I will be speaking with the driver developers on Monday morning (EST) to see how this could best be resolved for all of us with 6 and 7 series hardware.

I'll be giving a follow-up on my experiences, but felt you all should know that NVIDIA certainly did not ignore my critique, and agrees that the driver problem is a serious one. Stay tuned for results from my talks with the driver devs.

Just this week, I made the migration to my new Conroe setup. I know, I know - I work for a fantastic tech publication, we have a huge lab and goodies everywhere...but the cobbler's children go barefoot, you know? Fortunately, some great things happened, the stars aligned, and with a little love from some special people, I moved into the world of high technology again.

So I built my nice E6600 setup, with my two gigs of OCZ RAM (chosen for maximum overclock, of course) and my blazingly fast GeForce 7950 GX2, and I dropped my new Vista 64-bit CD in the drive. Nothing on this computer aside from the hard drive and the DVD had been released any earlier than eight months ago. Vista installed like a dream, and runs like one. I was truly loving the view.

Then I installed GRAW and ES4: Oblivion. Suddenly, my brand-spanking new, shiny system limped slower than my Athlon X2 4200+ Shuttle setup that I replaced. How could a system so new, responding snappily to my new OS, go at such a crawl in my games?

It's because I'm on Vista, of course. Right now, there is a code-monkey or three busily humming away at NVIDIA's headquarters to fix this issue. The drivers aren't done, SLI is not here. And my nearly new, flagship of the 7-series line graphics card runs slower than a 7900GT. This card was new barely seven months ago.

Many people blame Microsoft, saying Vista was not ready, or Vista was late, or Vista was this or that. That's why I felt a need to write this. Someone in this industry needs to acknowledge that this isn't Redmond's fault. The excuses need to end here and now, guys.

"Someone in this industry needs to acknowledge that this isn't Redmond's fault."

Vista code has been stable and available as a public beta since before my GX2 card was even out. Supposedly, SLI is being marketed as the bleeding edge of game technology - so why on Earth would it not be supported in the bleeding edge of operating systems?

Oh, that's right, because NVIDIA wants the 8800GTS and GTX to run in SLI first. And it wants DX10 to run flawlessly - you know, that piece of code that won't even hit until March? Yes, that one. That's priority #1 - the stuff that isn't out yet, and won't have a real benefit for even longer. Who the $@#! needs 8800s in SLI yet, anyway?!

Series 6 and 7 (the ones everyone actually has) will come...later. You want SLI? You should buy new hardware. Let's forget that the very last flagship card released (and I'll remind you, was released after Vista's first beta) requires it to run.

Nobody knew this was coming? Were the driver writers asleep? Did they forget that SLI exists? Did nobody plug two cards in and say, "Wow, this doesn't work!"? No, of course not - it's just business tactics. The same is true of discontinuing support for the NF3 chipset - why support the old when you can force the new?

Creative almost took Vista as an opportunity to discontinue all of its Audigy support, too. No drivers, at all. The whole point of Audigy was supposed to be its programmable chips, which could always adapt to future technology - yet only X-Fi would be supported in Vista. However, the company had a change of heart near release, probably due in part to the copious outcry of its consumers. Though the drivers are far from perfect, at least they're there and support the features of each card as much as Vista allows.

All of this underscores a serious problem in the business ethics of companies comfortably "at the top" of the gaming world. Vista has been a known quantity for a long time, and code has been available even for consumers to try for nine months. It didn't require RTM code to realise that SLI isn't working or that the Audigy still could.
The truth is simple - companies like NVIDIA are choosing not to support relatively (or even just very) recent hardware in order to sell you more new stuff.

Vista is being scapegoated for greed and laziness in other parts of the industry, and we as consumers are buying into it. We expect that a new OS will require an upgrade - it's new, after all. Besides, most of the bugs will be blamed on Microsoft anyway. So from a manufacturer perspective, why not use this opportunity to cut out support for old stuff and generate some new sales?

Motherboards are still being released with PS/2 ports, but a seven-month old flagship graphics card isn't getting supported. There is something very wrong here. I should not have to choose between a better OS or a working $400 card. The only one who came out with a proper driver setup for its whole product line was ATI, a company I normally scorn for its poor drivers. I guess I'm going to have to reconsider that.

Product line obsolescence is an important thing in business, but this has simply gone too far. There are a few companies that are standing with their hands out and dollar (and pound) signs in their eyes, seeing Microsoft's newborn baby as a perfectly good reason to ransom you into some new hardware. And when you and I ask why, they all blame Vista, as if they never knew it was coming until two months ago.

"CrossFire actually works in Vista. And so does the X1950."

Computer upgrades are a reality, and the falloff of support for a five-year old product is far from criminal. But to blame Microsoft for a manufacturer's own opportunism, greed and laziness really is. NVIDIA isn't the only one to do this, but any company that couldn't bother over nine months to sit down and write proper drivers for products less than a year old should be ashamed of its customer support and quality control.

As gamers and as consumers, we need to start looking more closely into issues like this. It's not when the newest hardware isn't perfect or a five year old piece of kit doesn't run well that we should be worried about, both bugs and age take their toll. It's when a company has the opportunity to take a high road and deliberately chooses not to that we should sit up and take notice. It's when a little bit of extra preparation or support would have made a huge difference, and they chose not to spend the few extra dollars to make it happen.

The opportunities to examine these moments come few and far between, but they tell us a lot about how the company views its consumers at that time. Apparently, companies like NVIDIA are getting a little too comfortable at the top of the food chain. This was not a wise time to pull this stunt, either. ATI's R600 is due out in March, and guess what - CrossFire actually works in Vista. And so does the X1950.

In the meantime, I guess it's back to XP for me, and that's a shame. I like Vista, I really do. And much like gamers and Linux, it's sad to have to not use a really good operating system due to sucky support by everyone else. One thing is for sure - the poor support didn't cause me to run out and buy the next card...quite the opposite, I think the next purchase will probably go to a company that chose to actually support the users it already has.
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