Microsoft documents quantify Nvidia driver bugginess

— 4:22 PM on March 28, 2008

Anyone who owned an Nvidia graphics card and jumped on the Windows Vista bandwagon early last year would probably agree that Nvidia's first few sets of Vista-compatible drivers weren't so great. The drivers were still marked as betas, lacked many features, and had a number of outstanding bugs. Nvidia eventually got around to polishing them and releasing non-beta versions, but the company definitely lagged behind many others—including its main competitor in the discrete graphics market, AMD—in doing so.

As part of the "Vista capable" lawsuit, Microsoft has released a set of internal documents that provide interesting insights into just how buggy Nvidia's Vista drivers were. According to ChannelWeb, the documents quantify "crashes per organization" for drivers and suggest Nvidia was responsible for 28.81% of Vista driver crashes throughout 2007. That's the highest figure in the list, followed by 17.97% for Microsoft, 17.07% for "unknown," and 9.3% for ATI/AMD.

Those numbers have been tossed around a fair amount this week with headlines such as, "Nvidia caused 30% of Vista crashes," but they probably ought to be taken with a grain of salt. For one, as ChannelWeb points out, Nvidia outsold AMD 3:2 throughout much of 2007, and its GeForce 8-series graphics processors were especially popular among enthusiasts—those likeliest to be early Vista adopters and use Nvidia's early Vista drivers. In our recent hardware survey, 68% of TR readers who voted said they had Nvidia GPUs.

In addition to the apparent skew toward Nvidia, Microsoft's numbers are also presented without much context. Do they really span all of 2007? Do they mix harmless (but initially commonplace) Nvidia Control Panel crashes with more serious, system-freezing issues? And, perhaps more importantly, how many crashes did each Vista user really experience overall? The data show a total of around 1.67 million driver crashes for all of 2007, but Microsoft sold more than 100 million copies of Vista in 2007. If my math is right, 1.67 million driver crashes for a total of 100 million licenses works out to less than 0.02 driver crashes per license for the whole year, which isn't exactly much.

There's no doubt that Nvidia's Vista drivers left a lot to be desired even a few months after Vista's retail launch. These numbers definitely add weight to that observation, and they're certainly quite interesting. Still, they seem to raise more questions than they answer.

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