Thursday, December 03, 2009

Have You Hugged Your Driver Writer Lately?

In my contact with users, on X-Plane forums, in discussions of computer graphics, video drivers are an easy punching bad. When an app doesn't work, blame the video driver. The guys at NV and ATI don't have time to respond to every ridiculous allegation that is posted. Sometimes drivers are borked, but when it turns out to be X-Plane I try to set the record straight.

Driver writers have what might be the hardest combination of programming circumstances:
  1. Their code cannot crash or barf. X-Plane crashes, you send me some hate email. Your video driver crashes, you can't see to send me that email.
  2. The driver has to be fast . The whole point of buyng that new GeForce 600000 GTX TurboPower with HyperCache was faster framerates. If the driver isn't absolutely optimized for speed, that hardware can't do its thing.
  3. The driver writers don't have a lot of time to be fast and correct - the GeForce 700000 GTX TurboPower II will HyperCache Pro will be out 18 months from now, and they'll have to start all over again.
That's not an easy set of goals to meet. Today's video cards are basically computers on a PCIe board, and they do amazing things, but they do it thanks to a fairly complex piece of software.

Applications writers like myself get to outsource the lower level aspects of our rendering engine to driver writers. When a driver doesn't work right, it's frustrating, but when a driver does work right, it's doing some amazing things.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. Do you ever get to moan at driver writers or are they as faceless to you as to us? I understand that driver writers have a short time to get the first driver right. How about v2+ drivers?

As I understand X-plane runs faster on a PC using the same GPU as my Mac (GeForce 8800 GT) and the difference is in the drivers, I'd love to have a moan at the (presumably) Apple techs who can't get it running somewhere near as fast as (presumably) the NVIDIA guys can get the PC drivers humming along. OR..have I got it completely wrong? I'm a User not a Tech.


Benjamin Supnik said...

I do _sometimes_ get to moan face to many company-to-company relationships, LR's communications with Apple, AMD, etc. are riddled with NDAs.

alpilotx said...

And, sometimes they are also cooperative if you have problems. I had this experience once, when there was some nasty driver issue with NVidia on Linux, which in rare occasions during a flight in X-Plane brought the computer down (X completely froze up with ugly NV log messages). Well, key to getting fixed that was to communicate with NVidia in the right tone and give them as much information as possible (which is the really hard part for many users) ...