As expected, ATI rang in the new year with another CATALYST driver release, version 4.1 to be exact. If you donít recall, ATIís CATALYST driver team has committed itself to releasing a new driver every month, so we expect to see twelve driver releases this calendar year. As ATIís first driver release for 2004, last weekís driver was dubbed 4.1, with the ď4Ē signifying the year the driver was released and the one designating it as the first driver released this year. More than a few of you have commented about this naming system in the news comments, but it looks like ATI is sticking to their guns on this one so everyone will have to get used to it by the time October 2004 hits.
OVERDRIVE: Now with built-in hardware monitoring
One of the biggest additions in CATALYST 4.1 for RADEON 9800 XT/9600 XT users is that ATI has integrated the built-in hardware monitoring functionality we first mentioned as an upcoming feature in our CATALYST 3.8 report. This support comes in the form of temperature and clock speed, both of which can now be viewed in the OVERDRIVE control panel.
Its capability is limited in the sense that it only presents the current clock speed and temperature of the graphics core, there is no histogram present that would allow you to monitor temperature/clock speed fluctuations over time. This is a capability Tyan has had in their cards for some time, and more recently, ASUS with their Smart Doctor utility.
New OVERDRIVE panel now offers temps
OVERDRIVE enabled. Note the high temp
and 432MHz clock speed
Confusion over OVERDRIVE erupted however when RADEON 9800 XT users noticed that their cards were operating at temperatures above the guidelines ATI had stated for OVERDRIVE. Namely, that at core temperatures above 60 degrees Celsius, ATI had stated that the graphics core was supposed to always operate at its stock clock speed of 412MHz. Many card owners were running at 419MHz (the intermediate OVERDRIVE setting), despite the fact that the core (as measured by OVERDRIVE) was operating above 60 degrees.
ATI clarified things with Rage3D
, stating that the temperature reported by the OVERDRIVE control panel is actually an approximation, twenty degrees are added to the temperature reported by the onboard thermistor, which is located close to the die. This explains why OVERDRIVE still kicks in despite the appearance of a high core temperature.
OVERDRIVE memory tuning
One other aspect we reported on in our CATALYST 3.8 report was that ATI would add dynamic memory adjustment to OVERDRIVEís repertoire in a future CATALYST release. Fortunately, this is no longer the case, ATI has no plans to add this feature.
In our opinion, this is good for enthusiasts, as we discovered in our RADEON 9800 XT/9600 XT overclocked article, the memoryís clock frequency can be adjusted by a third-party utility such as Rage3D Tweak or Powerstrip with OVERDRIVE protection running in the background. If the core temperature gets too high, OVERDRIVE can kick the clock frequency down, but the memoryís clock speed remains untouched. With todayís modern graphics cards, memory overclocking has a larger impact on performance than overclocking the graphics core, so as a result of this method you get most of the performance benefits of traditional overclocking (in the pre-OVERDRIVE days) but with the added protection of OVERDRIVE.
Basically, this loophole can give you good performance benefits while at the same time protecting your graphics core from overheating. And based on what weíve seen from ATIís stock OVERDRIVE clocks for the graphics core, if ATI were to add memory adjustment support to OVERDRIVE, chances are the clock speeds ATI would select would be too conservative for enthusiasts, especially those of you with cards with high-speed DDR memory such as the RADEON 9600 XT cards from ASUS, Sapphire, and Powercolor, who all have XT variants with memory modules good for 650MHz or more.
After ATIís stellar CATALYST 3.10 release, CAT 4.1 was meant to address more compatibility issues but unfortunately missed the Madden AA issues we mentioned previously. Some RADEON owners have also reported that the Call of Duty stability issues are back with CAT 4.1, but try as we might we couldnít corroborate those findings. Even with fast writes enabled CoD ran flawlessly.
ATI notes a significant performance decrease in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory thatís introduced by CAT 4.1, so we were curious to see if it affected other games based on the Quake 3 engine. In Quake 3, we actually found a slight performance increase at low resolutions but we did find a slim performance decline in Call of Duty at low res in some conditions. ATI will have the issue fixed for Wolf:ET in the next CATALYST driver.