Thumbing its nose at AMD, Nvidia has announced a "game-changing" GeForce update with many "exclusive" improvements, including a substantial performance boost in Skyrim. Today's release expands on December's 290.53 beta drivers, which raised indoor frame rates by up to 25% in Bethesda's epic RPG (when compared against the 290.36 beta). The 295.73 WHQL drivers tout an even larger gain, with mid-range cards such as the GTX 560 witnessing up to 44.5% better performance (44.1% when SLIed).

Download GeForce 295.73 WHQL (release notes)
Desktop: Windows XP 32-bit | Windows XP 64-bit | Windows Vista/7 32-bit | Windows Vista/7 64-bit
Mobile: Windows Vista/7 32-bit | Windows Vista/7 64-bit

Nvidia notes this is particularly exciting because it doesn't simply bring the frame rates from "great" to "awesome" for mid-range users. When testing high-detail settings with 285.62 WHQL, the GTX 560 slips below 30fps, which most PC gamers deem unacceptable. The latest drivers push that up to about 40fps, allowing GTX 560 and GTX 560 Ti owners to experience Skyrim with "Ultra" graphical settings and high-res textures. GTX 580 owners should see a 36% bump from sub-60fps frame rates to around 70fps.

Again, we're strictly talking about indoor scenes, but that's where you'll spend a bulk of your time and Nvidia notes that outdoor performance tends to be CPU-dependent on higher-end configurations. Nonetheless, the company managed to squeeze a 16.2% boost out of the GTX 560 when comparing 285.62 WHQL with 295.73 WHQL in outdoor environments. Nvidia has also officially added Ambient Occlusion support for Skyrim, which was only previously available in the 290.36 and 290.53 betas.

Nvidia reportedly improved the frame rate impact of using Ambient Occlusion since its introduction, though the company didn't offer any specifics. The feature provides more realistic shadows and must be enabled through the Nvidia Control Panel ("Manage 3D Settings" > Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim in the drop-down > set "Ambient Occlusion" to "Performance" or "Quality" and click apply). We've created a quick GIF comparison of the feature on and off, but Nvidia offers several high-res interactive images.

Ambient Occlusion support is also now available for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, the Diablo III beta, and the Mass Effect 3 demo, which launched last week. Nvidia offers interactive screenshots for the first two, while ME3 is accompanied by a graph to illustrate how well the game already scales in SLI. The company reports a 91.63% improvement when playing ME3 at 1080p with two GTX 560s and 90% with GTX 570s. At 2560x1440, the SLIed GTX 560s improved 100% and the GTX 570s jumped more than 95%.

Version 295.73 WHQL adds SLI profiles for 12 games including Kingdoms of Alamur: Reckoning, The Darkness II and Trine 2, as well as new or updated 3D Vision profiles for 41 titles like Alan Wake and Dota 2. 3D Vision gamers also receive a new 3D crosshair for Skyrim that better matches the 2D version (enable it with CTRL+F12 and then disable the 2D crosshair in the game settings). Along with the obligatory bug fixes (complete list here), Nvidia mentions a handful of miscellaneous changes:

  • 295.73 WHQL adds support for 3D Vision windowed mode on DLP HDTVs and on Optimized for GeForce passive 3D monitors.
  • Includes updated PhysX 9.12.0209 System Software for improved compatibility and performance in Alice: Madness Returns and Batman: Arkham City.
  • Enables WHQL-certified support for NVIDIA Surround on Intel X79 SLI-certified motherboards.
  • Fixes instances of texture corruption/artifacts in Battlefield 3 when memory constrained (typically on 1GB or less graphics cards running Ultra settings and high resolutions).