OK, guys so here's the deal, straight up front this is a help request blog as my last resort after journeying thought the internet and not finding any help for my problem:
The good news is that I followed your advice and built a new PC to be able to finally play my Steam/HB library, the bad news is that I'm suffering from an annoying "The Nvidia Driver Stopped Working and Has Recovered" problem that keeps randomly crashing games and only games (seems to be a common problem with not one common fix and all the fixes I've tried have not worked.
The Rig in Question
Mobo: EVGA Z68 Sli Micro
Video Card: Geforce 550Ti
Ram: 8 Gb
OS: Win7 x64
The Fixes That Have Been Tried and Failed
-Disable NVidia HD audio drivers
-Update Realtek HD audio drivers to vanilla version
-Adjust PCI Latency to 128 (couldn't do it because there is no such option in my BIOS)
-Update Nvidia driver to version 314.22 (and several other versions)
-Run games using "-DX9" modifier
-Disabling Realtek HD Audio drivers
has anyone else had this problem? how did you fix it?
EDIT1: Added more stuff I've tried and failed
EDIT2: Added OS JIC.
Interesting development, seems the whole Nvidia 500 Series suffers of this problem:
The solution? you have to up the core voltage of the GPU.
The kicker? after going to the EVGA site, subscribing and downloading a special app to do it, the damn thing won't let me why? from the FAQ:
"Q. When I adjust voltage on my 600 series card, the value doesn’t stick! What do I do?
A. The 600 series cards are very dynamic, and adjust voltage in real time to match the operating frequency. On a 600 series card, the voltage slider specifies a "maximum" voltage. Note: On a 600 series card, setting a custom voltage level does not always allow for higher overclocks, in fact it may even decrease clocks by increasing heat and power draw. It is not recommended to change voltage on 600 series cards."
You can't make this shit up
NOTE: I take it this is a generic FAQ for the app since the site directed me to it after giving it my exact card model and OS so they're talking about the 500 series instead of the 600 series.
EDIT4: Seems we have a winner guys, despite seemingly not working I've had no crashes or problems since setting the voltage higher. Here's some pics to show what I mean:
1) These are the original settings the app showed, notice the voltage reading of 949 mv:
2) After clicking the "Voltage" option below "Monitoring" and "Test" (greyed) it opened this window that I set to 1050 and hit "Apply", the settings seemingly are applied but then go back to the original values in 1)
3)Funny thing after opening the "Voltage" option again the value showed remains "1050" so I decided to give it a try and play again to see if there was any issues and had no problems.
4)After finishing the play session and just in case I applied MyLandlord's suggested fix
All seems fine so far so unless there's another crash I'll consider it fixed. Thank you everyone