Hasta la Vista, Nvidia

Nine months after Microsoft released Windows Vista to manufacturing and six months after Vista hit retail shelves, Nvidia still can't get its driver act together. With an Nvidia display adapter, you might be unable to resume from sleep, and HDTV displays are a mess. Here's why I'm no longer using or recommending Nvidia cards.

If you own an Nvidia display adapter and you run Windows Vista, I have good news and bad news.

The good news? Nvidia has released another update of its drivers for 32–bit and 64–bit Vista. ForceWare Release 162 was posted to Nvidia’s website on July 26.

The bad news? The list of “Open Issues in Version 162.22” (PDF) runs for 10 full pages.

For me, the show-stopper issue is this one:

The display is corrupt or there is no display upon resume from sleep mode. [296199, 295481]

This issue has bit me repeatedly on my main desktop system, which has been running with an Nvidia 7600 GS card for the past few months. After going into sleep mode the system fails to resume; the only solution is a reset. It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s often enough that I have been forced to disable sleep mode on this Nvidia-equipped system. (And it’s not a new bug, either. I’ve found reports of this issue on Nvidia’s own customer support forums back in February, just days after Vista was officially released.)

I had equally exasperating display issues on a Vista machine connected to a high-definition TV. The Media Center interface displayed fine, but switching to the regular desktop resulted in a black screen, and the only solution, ironically, was to hit the power switch to go into sleep mode, then hit it again to resume. And even when the display was working, all four edges of the normal Windows desktop were clipped off, including the taskbar and Start button. That makes it pretty difficult to manage Windows, and it’s a deal breaker for a Media Center machine, which has to just work.

Over the weekend I yanked Nvidia cards out of both systems. On one, I went back to the onboard Intel GMA950 graphics. On the Vista Media Center PC, I installed an ATI Radeon X1300 Pro card with the most recent ATI drivers (Catalyst Version 7.7, released July 19, 2007).

The difference is night and day. Sleep works perfectly again. I can switch effortlessly between Media Center and the Windows desktop on the HDTV, and the full desktop is visible. (ATI’s drivers aren’t bug-free, but the list of known issues with Windows Vista is dramatically shorter – one page, not ten.)

Intel and ATI have managed to produce drivers that reliably work with the power management features in Windows Vista. So why can’t Nvidia? And why was a driver with this bug ever released to the public?

I’m not buying another Nvidia card until the company gets its driver act together, and I’m not recommending Nvidia products for anyone else who plans to use Windows Vista, either.