It has been a few months since we last took a look at a CATALYST driver release, but ATI’s driver team has been hard at work nonetheless. After the release of CATALYST 3.4, which brought with it numerous performance increases for RADEON owners with DirectX 9 hardware and support of the larger frame buffer present in the RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB, the CATALYST driver team publicly committed to a monthly release schedule. This is the most aggressive timetable in the history of the graphics industry.
So far they’ve done a good job of holding up to their commitment, CATALYST 3.5 and 3.6 were both released in a timely manner. Neither release was a dramatic improvement over CATALYST 3.4 from a performance perspective: CATALYST 3.5 was slower in some cases than its predecessor but was highly stable. In a similar fashion CATALYST 3.6 offered no performance enhancements but was instead geared towards compatibility and squashing bugs.
With little changing in regards to performance, these releases may not generate much buzz in comparison to previous drivers, but they’re still important. Each driver update demonstrates ATI’s renewed commitment to driver development, an area it was historically weak in. We emphasize the word was because in some regards, ATI’s drivers are superior to NVIDIA’s.
Performance and compatibility
CATALYST 3.7 is first and foremost another release that is designed to address compatibility issues, but ATI has also added a new triple buffering option under the compatibility settings tab. ATI also claims a few performance enhancements for DirectX 9 users in titles such as Unreal Tournament 2003 and Dungeon Siege, while DX8 class cards see some modest gains in OpenGL games like Quake 3 and Serious Sam (among others). UT2003 is still a popular game, and its engine is used in a variety of games, so we were curious to see if these claims held true in our testing with custom demos in Unreal Tournament 2003 and Splinter Cell. You’ll have to read on for those results.
As far as compatibility is concerned, Flight Simulator 2004 owners will be disappointed to hear that the nagging issues ATI users have reported in numerous online forums with this title remain in CATALYST 3.7. Fortunately, nothing we witnessed could be classified as a showstopper, but the flashing menus were irritating to the eyes.
IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles also doesn’t work properly with CATALYST 3.7, the 3.7 release notes mention problems with this title: “The Windows XP system not responding when attempting to launch IL2 Sturmovik Forgotten Battles if the display resolution is set to 1024x768 32bpp is now resolved. This issue was known to occur on the RADEON™ 9700, 9600, and 9500 series of cards.” Unfortunately, the issue we’ve encountered is somewhat different, the system responds just fine when we launch the game, but if we change the resolution to a higher setting than default (which is manually determined at install), the display is rendered incorrectly, IL-2 opens partially in a window. We’ve noticed this on all RADEON cards, not just the 9500, 9600, and 9700, and it’s a problem that first appeared in CATALYST 3.6.
Hopefully ATI can resolve these issues quickly, as these are currently the two hottest flight sims on the market.