Graphics, Software Programs

AMD brings ton of features to the Catalyst drivers


Last week, AMD informed us that they’re bringing in a lot of new driver features within the next six weeks. The company is doing a "tick-tock" launch sequence with Catalyst 10.2 and 10.3, bringing a sea of changes into the mix.

Ben Bar-Haim, Corporate Vice President for Software at AMD stated that "monthly ATI Catalyst? driver updates further illustrate that commitment as we focus on continually enabling greater performance, even more rock solid stability, and intuitive, innovative features."

Catalyst 10.2 – Introducing Application Profiles
Hello Application Profiles - no more wait for hot-fixes or game patches.
Hello Application Profiles – no more wait for hot-fixes or game patches.

The Catalyst driver team behind Terry Makedon worked hard on bringing in a sea of features that would demonstrate AMD’s commitment to bringing all the latest and all the greatest trends in 3D technology. As of today, users can download Catalyst 10.2, a driver that introduces Application Profiles. This feature is being introduced as an answer to the experience users had with Need For Speed: SHIFT and the Radeon HD 5000 series. Rather than being forced to wait for a patch, AMD will now provide access to new game profiles as soon as the game launches – with an executable file downloadable from AMD’s official website. We view this as a very positive note, and will pay close attention to the rhythm AMD is posting these updates.

Second large feature is the introduction of CrossFire and CrossFireX support for the ATI Eyefinity multi-display technology. When Eyefinity launched in September of last year, it offered "something new", and our gaming experience on a 24 Dell 24" setup in X-Plane from Laminar Research, or World of Warcraft and DiRT 2 on six Dell 30" was indeed, a whole new experience. This technology forced nVidia to come up with a last minute solution called nVidia Surround and nVidia 3D Vision Surround, however these two will require you to use a dual-GPU configuration [as third display is driven by the second graphics card].

This wasn’t the only change in regards to CrossFire and CrossFireX. AMD also introduced power saving for its multi-GPU setups. Until now, both or even four graphics cards worked regardless of were you using Windows or playing 3D games. Naturally, the inactive boards would not consume 100% of power – but still were quite power inefficient. For instance, a dual HD 5870 setup would consume around 380 Watts in 3D mode and 50W in 2D mode. With PowerPlay now enabled, you can save around 12 Watts, dropping the power consumption to 40W. However, if we take a look at quad setup, four HD 5870 boards consume around 760 Watts and without "PowerPlay For CrossFireX", the boards would eat around 110 Watts while running Windows. With Catalyst 10.2, this will reduce power consumption to 65W, 40% less than before.

Catalyst 10.3 – Perspective correction, Hello notebooks & 120 Hz 3D
Perspective correction arrives for Eyefinity technology
Perspective correction arrives for Eyefinity technology – plus, if you have different displays, per-display adjustments are here – change color, contrast or brightness to equalize your gaming or viewing experience.

Continuing on the newly introduced multi-GPU support for ATI Eyefinity, Catalyst 10.3 will introduce perspective correction. The problem with Eyefinity as such was  the fact that three or even six displays have bezels between them and that makes for rather unnatural switch from one screen to another. AMD had Perspective correction enabled in their 24 screen demo, but the issue was that the demo was running on Linux operating system, not exactly "weapon of choice" for almost 100% of gamers out here.

The image above comes from 10.3 driver with Bezel Correction enabled. The actual number of added pixels may differ from display to display with three Dell 24" needing 288 pixels [144 pixels for left to center, and 144 pixels for center to right screen] to correctly display the 3D scene.

Second 3D feature is extremely important for AMD. After Blu-ray consortium selected active stereoscopy to be "the standard" for 3D Blu-ray, both AMD and XpanD stopped criticizing vendor-locking approach that nVidia uses and worked on developing their own active solutions.

In case of AMD, Catalyst 10.3 will introduce support for 3D stereoscopic gaming and movie watching with refresh rates set at 120 Hz. The company however, will not introduce its own solution but rather rely on companies such as XpanD, who are bringing an active 120Hz product themselves. We are aware of products that are coming in the frame, including 3D laptops from major OEMs. All in all, this feature is tying nicely with the following big, perhaps the most important part of this announcement: mobile crowd gets monthly updates.

With Catalyst 10.3, AMD introduces regular monthly updates for notebook GPUs
With Catalyst 10.3, AMD introduces regular monthly updates for notebook GPUs

That’s right – starting on CeBIT 2010, AMD will introduce monthly builds of Catalyst drivers for almost all Mobility Radeon-based notebooks running Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems. To be more precise, if your notebook is running Mobility Radeon HD 2000 series and above, you get to download the new Catalyst drivers each and every month, should you show desire to do so. This means no more year or two year old, vendor-locked drivers that cause the latest application to run slow as a dog or doesn’t feature GPU acceleration, regardless of that being a 3D game, latest version of PowerDVD and so on.

All in all, the features AMD is introducing in software complement the hardware revolution AMD executed in the past six months. The company launched top-to-bottom DirectX 11 line-up, shipped millions of units and more importantly, drove prices down so that all the latest and greatest could be accessed
by whole market, not just lucky few. These drivers are "detonating" the hardware and starting in March, we should finally be able to recommend the Eyefinity to you, our respected readers. We didn’t get onto the "Eyefinity rocks" bandwagon unlike some of our colleagues due to lack of perspective correction and our 3D experience on Acer notebook was greatly influenced by the older drivers – however with these changes brought forward by Catalyst 10.2 and 10.3, it finally looks like AMD is now covering users from all sides.

It remains to be seen can AMD now work on driving these features among developers and more importantly, create a hardware ecosystem around it. For instance, we’re still waiting on six-display Samsung Eyefinity setup that was launched way back in September 2009. In any case guys’n’girls from Markham, Canada – excellent work.