Features (contíd)/Future of Catalyst
Besides improved performance, another feature AMD has added to their Catalyst 7.1 Vista driver thatís actually exclusive at the moment to Vista is a new 3D Preview.
If you recall, back when ATI introduced CCC, they incorporated a preview feature that allowed end users to see the affect of graphics settings changes before they were applied. For instance, under the 3D tab you could see a preview of the benefits of going from anti-aliasing disabled to 4x anti-aliasing.
Under the old preview function, a static image was displayed in the preview window. Under Vistaís new 7.1 driver however, the image isnít static, instead it runs in motion. Itís a short clip, only a few seconds long, but it should definitely help those who are new to the concept of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering figure out what the fuss is all about. In case you donít like the motion clips, AMD also continues to include static examples as well, including the ability to zoom in so you can see the benefits of anti-aliasing and AF up close.
New OpenGL driver
For years AMD (then ATI) has been promising a new, completely re-architected OpenGL driver. As any Radeon enthusiast will tell you, OpenGL performance is one area where
AMD has consistently trailed behind NVIDIA, so this is a subject thatís quite sore to many Radeon card owners. Well folks, todayís Catalyst 7.1 Vista release is the first driver that has been designed to address this!
Unfortunately thatís about where the good news on this topic ends. AMDís quite adamant that the focus of todayís first release is on stability in OpenGL apps rather than performance. According to AMD ďThe focus of this first release is to deliver a stabile OpenGL driver. Future ATI Catalyst releases will deliver further OpenGL performance improvementsĒ.
Upon hearing this, the first thing we did was boot up Quake 4. Unfortunately as weíd feared there were definite issues. Many textures looked terrible, and the game didnít render the shadows properly. Needless to say AMDís OpenGL driver still needs a lot of work and if youíre a Quake 4 gamer (or any other OpenGL title) youíll want to wait until this issue is resolved before upgrading. At least if you care about image quality.
ATIís Catalyst 7.1 Vista driver does support ATIís CrossFire technology, including the latest Radeon X1950 Pro and X1650 XT cards, which incorporate built-in CrossFire support. The new driver does not support P965 CrossFire however, nor does it support alternate frame rendering (AFR) mode by default for all applications. This feature was just added this month to AMDís Windows XP driver. Since the driver relies on AMDís new OpenGL engine, AMDís driver team hasnít had enough time to add OpenGL CrossFire support Ė D3D apps are all thatís supported under CrossFire.
All of these features are promised to be in the works for future Catalyst releases.
AMDís got a trio of new goodies in store for Catalyst that are on the way. To improve adaptive anti-aliasing performance, AMD will be adding the option to use multisampling. Right now adaptive AA is limited to just super-sampled AA.
While supersampling looks good, it comes with an enormous performance hit. By adding a multi-sample option, you can turn on adaptive AA without taking that large hit.
Another new feature AMD is adding is a Linux version of Catalyst Control Center.
Finally, AMD is tweaking the Catalyst Install Manager. The goal is for the tweaked install manager to automatically (or manually) update individual driver components that have changed since the last driver release. Say for instance, AMD releases a new graphics driver, but the WDM driver carries over unchanged from the previous version. With the new Catalyst Install Manager, only the updated graphics driver would be downloaded and installed the rest would be left untouched. This will cut down on the size of driver downloads, thus saving download and install time.