The biggest thing that stood out to me during 2012 was NVIDIA's consistency of releasing a new driver when big name games were being launched. While we do not have the data here to show the performance changes of AMD's video cards, it was clear that NVIDIA was on top of its game with fixing bugs, adding necessary profiles to the driver software for games to run correctly.
From the day that the GeForce GTX 600 series was launched, the NVIDIA GPUs dominated the AMD video cards for an extensive period of time, not only because of better and newer hardware, but because of more advanced driver programming. There were a few months after the GeForce GTX 600 series launch where the AMD video cards were operating faster due to breakthroughs with AMD drivers. Eventually the NVIDIA drivers caught the hardware back up in gameplay performance. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 600 series video cards with excellent driver software even outperformed AMD's GHz Edition video cards during the initial release and a few months thereafter. It was not until recently that the two companies drivers became close again in performance.
The biggest credit that I have to give NVIDIA is releasing drivers with popular named games. Time in and time out NVIDIA has a driver ready anytime something big is happening, and the profiles generally support every aspect of the game. When a GeForce driver is released for a new game, we can immediately expect to have SLI performance for multi-display gaming. AMD dropped the ball after releasing its HD 7000 series video cards back at the end of 2011. It took them a few months before they ever added any CrossFire support came out so customers could use multiple video cards without worrying about stability issues. We even let AMD know what it was doing wrong in our AMD CrossFireX Drivers - Opportunity Lost
article. NVIDIA showed none of this negligence towards its customers this year, making them hands down the better company as far as delivering driver software this year.
I'll echo Grady's comments above, he's spot on about NVIDIA being on the ball when new top tier, and even non-top tier games have been released. We are always aware of an NVIDIA driver sometimes several days, or even a month, ahead of time ready to support the new game on day 1 release. In 2012, NVIDIA has a good record of this for single-card performance, and SLI performance in new games, on day 1. For the beginning part of 2012, AMD did fairly poorly when it came to CrossFire support, and we ranted about that quite a bit. I do think AMD got their act together in the second half of 2012, and did a much better job at providing driver releases on or before new game releases. There was a definite mark of improvement I saw, as 2012 progressed on the AMD side. We will map this out, and talk about that more in the AMD article.
As far as NVIDIA is concerned, we never had any major problems with drivers or performance that I can recall for 2012 in all the games that we have tested. If you look back, we performed a lot of gameplay performance and IQ reviews in games for 2012. Looking back, I count a total of 10 unique games that we performed performance and IQ testing in, and then consider our regular gaming suite we also used, as it evolved over time in 2012. In all of these games we looked at, we never had any trouble with any NVIDIA driver giving us major bugs, or a lack of SLI profile support, or any major issues that I can recall. We always had good performance when these game's launched, and the GTX 680 and 670 performed very well. It always seemed like the optimizations were already there, before we even started playing the game with the current driver out at the time. There were a lot of Beta driver releases that constantly added support for new games, and we kept up to date with those and always had a good gameplay experience throughout the year. As far as 2012 goes, the GTX 680 and GTX 670, and in turn GTX 660 Ti and GTX 660 have had great success, and a lot of that is due to the drivers support and optimizations in games. The GeForce GTX 600 series started off strong in 2012, and ended strong by the end of 2012, it was a good year for that series. Now we will see what happens in 2013, and follow up next year with a look back at this year.