'Vista Capable' Suit Sheds Harsh Light On Nvidia

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Nvidia has to be happy that it hasn't been implicated in the driver issues surrounding Windows Vista service pack 1 -- in the seven days since its release, Intel, Symantec and of course Microsoft itself have had to deal with the lion's share of blowback from SP1 users.

It was a different story a year ago. Back then, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia was the one on the hot seat for buggy device drivers ... and recently unsealed evidence in a class-action suit against Microsoft offers solid statistical backing for why users were so upset.

According to a list of driver crashes in Vista compiled by Microsoft that was unsealed by U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman in late February, Nvidia was responsible for nearly 29 percent of all such crashes. The timeframe for the list is hard to pin down. It's given as simply "Period: 2007" on page 47 of the unsealed discovery. Whether that represents all or just part of 2007 is unclear. Also somewhat ambiguous is how the crash list was generated. Sources told ChannelWeb it was a safe bet that the numbers were gathered from users sending prompted reports to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft following driver-caused application or system crashes in Vista.

Vista's retail release was Jan. 30, 2007. In the first half of that year, Nvidia enjoyed a roughly three-to-two market share advantage in PC graphics over main discrete graphics rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), listed as ATI Technologies on the crash list. But Nvidia driver crashes in "Period: 2007" were double what simple market share might predict, dwarfing Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD's by about three-to-one, according to Microsoft's list.

The list documents "Crashes by Organization" for all file type drivers. At the top of the list is Nvidia with roughly 480,000 crashes, or 28.81 percent of the total, followed by Microsoft (17.97 percent), Unknown (17.07 percent), AMD-ATI (9.30 percent) and Intel (8.83 percent). Webroot Software (3.99 percent), Realtek Semiconductor (3.34) and Creative Labs (1.09) are the only other organizations with more than 1 percent of driver crashes on the list.

It came as little surprise to sources that drivers associated with discrete graphics from Nvidia and AMD-ATI topped the list when you eliminate the ambiguous "Microsoft" and "Unknown" categories.

"Graphics drivers in particular are the most complex in the whole stack. The complexity in those drivers is in 3D animation effects," said an AMD spokesperson.

The Vista launch had a "rocky beginning" for Nvidia but the company "fixed the bugs in the order that they came in and the ones with the most complaints got fixed first," said Nvidia spokesman Derek Perez.

"When any OS is launched, there's a number of bugs coming out of the gate. That's pretty typical. We had driver bugs and the community let us know. One thing I was proud about was, given the response from the community, we took an outside-in approach to fixing bugs," Perez said.

Indeed, in the weeks following Vista's release, userland complaints about Nvidia driver-caused crashes in the operating system grew from a murmur to a roar. Nvidia's own forums were hit with a barrage of complaints and in late April, one Nvidia customer had even set up a Web site seeking support for a class-action suit against the Santa Clara, Calif.-based graphics chip maker.

To some extent, this should all be academic. Nvidia has largely fixed its Vista driver problems and according to Perez, the man attempting to build up the class-action suit has dropped the matter. (Dan Goldman, founder of Nvidiaclassaction.info, was contacted via e-mail for this story but didn't respond. Meanwhile, the Web site is still up.)

Still, the crash list sheds light on both the importance of good drivers and Nvidia's early troubles with Vista, said author and The PC Doctor blogger Adrian Kingsley-Hughes.


Next: Drivers Wanted

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