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FutureMark seeks accord on driver ‘optimisations’

Will draw line in sand

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FutureMark will soon say just how far graphics chip companies can go to optimise their drivers to improve their 3DMark scores.

The move follows the fight between the benchmark company and Nvidia earlier this year. Having tweaked its drivers to improve 3DMark scores - widely believed to be at the expense of image quality - Nvidia was accused by FutureMark of cheating.

FutureMark later retracted much of its initial criticism, stating that Nvidia has convinced it that the drivers weren't cheats but application-specific optimisations - a highly subtle distinction at best. At what point does an optimisation become a cheat? Presumably when the performance gain is made at the expense of some other desirable quality. Plenty of users certainly felt that Nvidia had stepped beyond that line with its driver tweaks. Nvidia, understandably, claimed it hadn't.

FutureMark's guidelines are no doubt intended to answer that question, though when that answer will come, it isn't saying.

"It's something in the works. We haven't finalised it yet," said Tero Sarkkinen, FutureMark's executive VP of sales and marketing in an interview with ExtremeTech. "When it's done we'll publish it."

FutureMark is currently canvassing member companies for their views, including Nvidia, now it's a member of the 3DMark beta programme again, and its arch-rival, ATI.

He added: "What we are hoping and pursuing here is that each and every player we hope will contribute to this draft and endorse it."

That assumes a compromise can be found. It's not hard to envisage one or more companies deciding they don't like the majority view, and pulling out of the process altogether. We hope they're all mature enough to reach a decision they can all accept, but the graphics chip business is a highly competitive one - which is why so much fuss is made over the benchmarks - that we don't believe that reaching a compromise will be easy. ®

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