Nvidia has unleashed a beta version of its release 256 graphics drivers for Windows this morning. This release is a fairly major update that incorporates a number of new features, so it may be worth grabbing, if you don't mind running a beta.
Owners of GeForce GTX 400-series graphics cards can expect performance improvements of up to 10% in a number of games, along with a few larger boosts in certain scenarios. A new load-balancing method for three-way SLI piles on the antialiasing, offering a cumulative "48X" AA strength on GeForce 200-series GPUs and up to "96X" on the GTX 400 series. (Actual sample size may vary. Shadow edges may stop at 12X to 24X. Some depth samples may be discarded. Contact your doctor if your AA produces more than four shadow samples per stage. In certain cases, serious side effects may occur, including black screens and sudden loss of performance.)
The feature train doesn't stop there, of course. Owners of GeForce 3D Vision setups can slide on the funny glasses and watch 3D Blu-ray movies using these drivers. Those with multi-GPU SLI rigs will find a new setup dialog that offers more precise control over which GPUs are used for graphics and PhysX. Nvidia claims the drivers include "full support for CUDA 3.1 and OpenGL 4.0", too.
You can grab the drivers directly from Nvidia in several formats: 64-bit for desktops, 32-bit for desktops, 64-bit for laptops, and 32-bit for laptops. Windows 7 and Vista are both supported, but not WinXP.
Nvidia originally expected the release 256 drivers to arrive in mid-April with full support for its answer to Eyefinity, called Surround Gaming, and the 3D variant, 3D Vision Surround. Those plans changed when April came and went without a release, and Nvidia later confirmed that its multi-monitor gaming features have been delayed until July. As a result, these early release 256 drivers don't support Surround Gaming.
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