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NVIDIA's Detonator FX drivers

GeForce FX: Reloaded

SO FAR, NVIDIA's GeForce FX line has largely been a bust. The GeForce FX 5800 Ultra has an offensively loud Dustbuster, the GeForce FX 5200 brought DirectX 9 to the masses with incredibly low price points but was slower than ATI's Radeon 9000 Pro, and the GeForce FX 5600 never really came within striking distance of ATI's dominant Radeon 9500 and 9600 Pro.

NVIDIA's comeback bid for the high end of the GeForce FX line relies on the new GeForce FX 5900, which uses the updated NV35 graphics chip. However, with the cheapest GeForce FX 5900 slated to retail for $299 and not set to appear until probably July, NVIDIA's mid-range and low-end GeForce FX lineup looks unappealing. What was the graphics chip giant to do?

Polish up the Gold Standard, of course. It has long been the opinion of the hardware community that NVIDIA has the best graphics drivers in the business, and with the low-end and mid-range GeForce FX cards performing so poorly against their Radeon competition, there was certainly room for improvement in NVIDIA's Detonators. And improved they have.

NVIDIA's new Detonator FX 44.03 drivers promise dramatically better performance than the previous 43.45 Detonators, but will the performance boost be enough to turn the GeForce FX 5200 and GeForce FX 5600 from duds into studs? Read on as we explore the performance and image quality of NVIDIA's latest official drivers.

Playing the name game
Perhaps the most important change to note with the Detonator FX drivers is a new naming scheme for the control panel's image quality settings. Previously, the 43.45 drivers offered "Performance," "Quality," and "Application" image quality settings. With the Detonator FX drivers, NVIDIA has retooled its naming scheme to offer users choices between "High Performance," "Performance," and "Quality" image quality options. Check it out:

We'll explore what kind of impact these new options have on image quality a little later in this article. For now, just keep the new names in the back of your mind.