Nvidia updates Windows 7 beta drivers

Early driver release could avoid repeat of Vista debacle

Graphics chip maker Nvidia Corp. Monday released beta drivers for Windows 7, months earlier in the development process than it did with Windows Vista, when users blasted the company for its sluggish pace.

New drivers for systems equipped with graphics cards that include Nvidia's GeForce graphics processor unit (GPU) are available immediately for Windows 7 beta, the company said Monday. Those drivers support Microsoft's new Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 1.1, the tweaked standard for Windows 7 that debuted in its predecessor, Vista.

Nvidia's early start in delivering drivers to Windows 7 is in stark contrast to how it handled Vista. Although that operating system had been in development for several years, Nvidia was unable to provide final versions of Vista-suitable drivers in time for the operating system's January 2007 launch. Even a month later, drivers for Nvidia's new GeForce 8800 remained in beta, and had not been certified by Microsoft's Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL).

In fact, Microsoft internal documents made public during the "Vista Capable" class-action lawsuit revealed that in 2007, Nvidia driver issues were the leading cause of Vista crashes, accounting for nearly a third of all operating system crashes or lock-ups.

Slow arriving and flaky drivers set off a firestorm of protests by users, who blasted Nvidia on company forums and other online outlets. One user went so far as to threaten a class-action lawsuit, and set up a Web site -- now offline -- where others could complain.

In reaction, Nvidia created a Vista-specific bug-report form, which still remains available.

Nvidia clearly would like to avoid a repetition of that debacle, something it hinted at Monday. "We expect that all of our hard work teaming with Microsoft over the past two years will pay off for GeForce GPU owners when Windows 7 officially launches," Dwight Diercks, the company's vice president of software engineering, said in a statement.

Microsoft launched the public beta of Windows 7 on January 10, but has since pulled the preview from its download site.

One analyst said the appearance of Nvidia's drivers this early in the Windows 7 process may be a sign that Microsoft and its partners are working together better than they did during Vista's development. "Microsoft has been collecting tons of information during the beta of Windows 7," said Michael Cherry of Directions on Microsoft. "They may have provided the engineers at Nvidia with information so that they can tweak their drivers now for Windows 7."

Nvidia has its own reasons for wanting to get on the Windows 7 bandwagon early, Cherry added. "A lot of people are fighting to be suppliers to the OEMs, and you want a clean reputation when you go in there," he said.

"I hope this is a trend," Cherry added, referring to Nvidia's promise to produce regular updates as Windows 7's development continues. "That would help everybody."

Nvidia's drivers for Windows 7 beta can be downloaded from its site.

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Gregg Keizer

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