On Friday, Microsoft released the long awaited follow-up to it DirectX 8.1 API, DirectX 9.0. Long awaited from ATI’s point of view at least, as their DirectX 9-based RADEON 9700 and RADEON 9500 family of video cards have beat Microsoft’s release by months (in the case of the RADEON 9700). In comparison, NVIDIA’s DirectX 9 part, GeForce FX, is still roughly a month away from public release, giving ATI a considerable time-to-market advantage over its competitor that it has certainly taken advantage of: the RADEON 9700 series has received numerous OEM design wins and reports persist that OEMs are gobbling up RADEON 9500 parts, resulting in limited supply at the retail level.
To coincide with Microsoft’s DirectX 9 release, ATI released its CATALYST 3.0 drivers, offering native support of the new API. The new drivers don’t introduce any new features over ATI’s CATALYST 2.5 driver, which brought with it the ability to enable or disable vertical sync (vsync) in Direct3D applications, a feature that has been requested for quite some time. However, to sweeten the package a bit, ATI has provided their RADEON 9700 launch demos from earlier this summer for direct download off their website. If the Natural Light 128-bit color demo drew your attention back in July, you’ll really be picking your jaw up off the floor after seeing it with your own eyes on your PC. You could possibly make a few bucks showing it off to your friends in the process.
In addition to the cool tech demos, ATI has also included a few screensavers on the same webpage. These aren’t your standard 2D screensavers though; these take advantage of the hardware pixel and vertex shaders present in your RADEON 9500/RADEON 9700 video card. In a somewhat surprising move, ATI has also included DirectX 9 drivers for all other owners of RADEON-based graphics cards. Unlike the RADEON 9500/9700 Series driver, this second driver is not WHQL certified, so consider it a beta release. This CATALYST 3.0 driver release is the second driver update this month, and the third release in the past 45 days. If there was ever any doubt in ATI’s commitment to driver support as of late, ATI has certainly been doing its best to squash those beliefs.
However, with any major driver release that is based on a brand new API, there are going to be problems. The Rage3D forums are already filled with users that have run into performance issues with the CATALYST 3.0 driver, we ran into stability issues with the uncertified driver and the RADEON 8500 and RADEON 9000 with Jedi Knight II.
If you recall the initial DirectX 8 release, numerous early adopters ran into problems and had lots of difficulty going back to DirectX 7. This is one of the reasons why the rollback feature of Windows XP was so quickly embraced by gamers. But if the new CATALYST 3.0 drivers bring a substantial performance improvement, that may be enough for some to justify the risk of installing them on their system. We put together this article to hopefully settle some of these concerns. Lets look at the results!