Last month we mentioned NVIDIA's plans for their upcoming drivers: the 256 series of drivers (don't ask us why they jumped from 197 to 256). Today, NVIDIA has released the first beta of the 256 drivers. We'll keep this short as our previous article already covered what this release entails, but you can read the full press release or just grab the drivers from NVIDIA and start testing. If you need a few buzz words to keep you interested, the new release boosts GTX 400 performance while adding support for Blu-ray 3D, CUDA 3.1, and OpenGL 4.0.

Perhaps more important for laptop users is that starting with the 256 series, all desktop and notebook drivers will launch in tandem, so you can get the 256 beta for any NVIDIA equipped desktop or laptop—including Optimus laptops—with one small exception. If you have a laptop with switchable graphics (i.e. Alienware M11x and ASUS UL30/50/80Vt to name a few) you'll have to go through your manufacturer for driver updates.

For those that prefer direct links, here are the desktop Windows 7/Vista 32-bit and 64-bit drivers, and for laptops the 32-bit and 64-bit releases. Those with other operating systems can search for your specific driver—Desktop and *nix (Linux, Solaris, and FreeBSD) users get 256 drivers across the board; XP remains with the 197 drivers for laptops but a 256 release is available for *nix.

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  • Cat - Monday, May 24, 2010 - link

    I mean in Boot Camp, not OS X.
  • y2kBug - Monday, May 24, 2010 - link

    Does anybody know if the Optimus feature work with the desktop Fermi cards? I have an HTPC which I use for gaming. I want to upgrade to Fermi, but I don't want to use it all the time due to its enormous power consumption.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 24, 2010 - link

    Currently, NVIDIA has "no plans" to do Optimus on anything beyond notebooks. I figure that's just them saying they haven't made an Optimus enabled desktop part yet, but who knows? It would be awfully nice to get GTX 400 parts to idle at 0W while you use IGP.... SLI and other stuff would make it a lot trickier though.
  • Rayb - Monday, May 24, 2010 - link

    It's called "Hybrid SLI" for desktops and you would need an Nforce MB supporting that feature, at least when it was still being developed.
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 24, 2010 - link

    I don't think Hybrid SLI is quite the same thing; that was using an NVIDIA IGP in a faux-SLI setup when you added a discrete GPU of similar caliber, i.e. the 9200 chipset with a 9200 GPU or something. Or I could be wrong. Anyway, the big deal with Optimus is that the discrete GPU completely shuts off when not in use, but it doesn't have any direct video output connections, so data is copied over PCIe into the IGP frame buffer. It seems like it should all be possible on the desktop, provided the desktop GPUs have the "Optimus Copy Engine". We shall see I suppose.
  • y2kBug - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    Jarred, do you know if Optimus requires anything special on the hardware side or it is all in the software drivers? Maybe, enabling Optimus on the desktop is just a matter of installing the latest drivers and enabling some registry key or similar? You guys at are doing a great job at popularizing HTPCs. It would be awesome if you could do a research on this (maybe with NVidia's help) and write up an article.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    The secret sauce in Optimus is their Copy Engine, which allows them to asynchronously copy the data from the GPU framebuffer to the IGP framebuffer. Without it, the GPU is tied up transferring data rather than rendering, reducing performance. So as far as I'm aware, Optimus on the desktop isn't possible with the current hardware (unless NVIDIA has the Copy Engine in the hardware but it's disabled). At least, that's what we've been told.
  • Rayb - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    The premise of Hybrid SLI (Ge-force Boost + Hybrid Power) for the desktop user was to use any supported dGPU in combination with the n Force iGPU, enabling Hybrid Power to power off the dGPU when is not needed. Obviously the Optimus engine goes beyond that, but it is derived from the rudimentary Hybrid Power. A little spit and shine along with a new name does wonders for the new iteration.
  • supamario - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    I think the reason for the jump from 19X.XX is fairly simple - to put behind the fiasco that was 196.75
  • Xentropy - Tuesday, May 25, 2010 - link

    I'm pretty sure they'd announced the upcoming driver revision would be the 256-series before that "fiasco" ever happened. My guess is they were just trying to convey the impression that these are a quantum leap past the old drivers. They've made big jumps in the past as well, usually to powers of two (or 1.5x a power of two).

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