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xRobert Richmond

nVIDIA Reference BIOSs

What exactly are they good for?

July 2000

Read the disclaimer before proceeding

Part 1: Introduction

nVidia is making a huge impact on the computer industry, especially within the graphics realm. With the release of their original TNT video card, they stunned the world by providing performance on par with the older, more established companies like 3dfx, ATI, and Matrox. After the initial market release, people found that the new nVidia cards could be overclocked and tweaked to provide excelling performance.

This tradition of end user tweaking has been carried over with the release of reference drivers, and their new found registry and file tweaks. Most people agree that nVidia's Reference drivers offer more performance, compatibility, and stability than the vendor specific versions. Now that same level of excellence carries over to hardware. Certain sources have been able to attain the latest nVidia Reference BIOSs.

Part 2: What is a Video BIOS?

Just like your motherboard, SCSI controller, and other hardware, your video card has a Basic Input Output System. The BIOS is responsible for setting and controlling the device's hardware properties. It can govern simple aspects, like vendor ID. It can also be responsible for settings that control bandwidth, latency, and performance. The video BIOS also contains instructions on how to handle graphics calls, ranging from simple DOS and VESA graphics, to high level OpenGL and DirectX.

Part 3: Why use the Reference BIOS?

Every few weeks nVidia issues updates to their base BIOS code. They provide updates for all their current generation chipsets, ranging from the TNT2 through the GF-256 GTS. These BIOSs often contain patches and fixes for many issues. nVidia distributes the updates to their vendor chipset partners, such as Creative and LeadTek. It is up to the vendor to determine what to do from there. Many just ignore the update, as they are not interested in trying to offer technical support needed for distributing a new BIOS. The latest BIOS was issued in Q1 '00, but many are still using BIOSs from Q2-3 '99. I personally own a Creative Lab's TNT2, and they haven't released any BIOS updates for nearly a year.

The new BIOSs could solve issues that you might have, ranging for poor performance and stability to visual errors. The last set of BIOSs include updates for DOS graphics positioning and improved flat panel support. They also include a new timing and drive pattern for the memory chips found on many cards. Several people have reported being able to overclock much higher with this BIOS release. My TNT2 (non-Ultra) used to max out at 150/183 (core/memory). After flashing with the Reference BIOS and adding a little cooling, I'm now running at 165/249! The extra core speed is basically attributed to better memory stability. The jump in memory MHz is always crucial for graphics cards. Advanced rendering techniques like 32bit colour and large texture support require massive amounts of memory throughput. A simple jump of 10MHz can lead to an extra 4-10 frames per second in some games. The higher bandwidth will also allow you to better support higher resolutions and colour settings. This means better visuals to go along with the improved performance.

Many also have noted better stability with the Reference BIOSs, especially on troublesome VIA and ALI chipset motherboards. I personally have noted less crashes and fewer Windows errors with my VIA MVP-3 based Super7 board. I can now run looping Quake2 and 3DMark demos for hours, without any problems at all. That's pretty impressive, as my early model AZZA motherboard and K6-2 450 at 523 are not known for good stability.

Continued . . . (Part 4)


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