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Nvidia rejoins testing program

The maker of graphics chips rejoins a benchmark testing program after a dustup over allegedly rigged results.

A software maker specializing in tools for measuring performance of PC hardware said Tuesday that graphics chip leader Nvidia has rejoined its development program after a dustup over alleged cheating on performance tests.

Futuremark, a Saratoga, Calif.-based company that is the leading supplier of "benchmarking" applications, said in a statement that Nvidia has rejoined its worldwide development program, which includes technology heavyweights such as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Microsoft and Nvidia rival ATI Technologies.

Nvidia and Futuremark split ways earlier this year, after Futuremark accused Nvidia of publishing rigged benchmark testing results. Futuremark said Nvidia had altered the drivers--software files that govern how a component interacts with the rest of the PC--for its new GeForce FX 5900 processor to detect activity characteristic of a benchmark test and adjust performance accordingly. The software tweaks reportedly resulted in distorted results for the Nvidia chip in Futuremark's 3DMark 03 testing application.

Futuremark later backtracked, characterizing the driver changes as an "application-specific optimization" rather than a cheat. Futuremark said at the time that it would reevaluate its testing procedures to account for the increasingly common practice in the graphics industry of optimizing software for specific applications, most commonly popular PC games.

While the Futuremark statement appeared to clear the air, Nvidia still chose to opt out of the company's development program, which helps guide the creation and updating of benchmark testing applications. Tero Sarkkinen, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Futuremark, hailed Nvidia's return to the program. "Their membership further validates our benchmark development model and adds value to the whole program," he said in a statement released Tuesday.

While performance in benchmark tests often differs from real-world applications, the tests are valuable for bragging rights in the competitive PC hardware industry, particularly the graphics chip market. ATI and Nvidia have been engaged in a fierce speed battle for more than a year, with ATI first claiming the lead with its Radeon 9700 processor. Nvidia suffered from repeated manufacturing delays and modest performance gains for its GeForce FX 5800 processor but is looking to regain the performance edge with the 5900.