Summary: If you recall our CATALYST 3.2 driver report, expectations were high for the performance improvements rumored to be present in ATI's next driver release. Today it's here, as ATI released its CATALYST 3.4 driver late last week. What's new with these drivers, and what kind of performance should you expect out of CATALYST 3.4? Find out in this article!
In the last episode of the CATALYST driver saga, CATALYST 3.2 offered a wealth of bug fixes and resolved some lingering compatibility issues between the CATALYST driver and certain games. Unfortunately, one new bug was created in the process: accessing the console or pressing “Esc” to return to the main menu in Half-Life engine games caused the system to hang, requiring a complete reboot. While Half-Life’s popularity has certainly waned over the years, third-party mods based on it haven’t. To this day Counter-Strike is still the most popular game played online.
Fortunately we can report right away that this has been fixed in CATALYST 3.4.
Before the CATALYST 3.2 driver was even a day old, rumors of significant performance enhancements in the follow-up driver release were already running rampant. We’d seen the speed boost the CATALYST 3.0 drivers brought to RADEON 9500 owners, and CATALYST 3.1 to RADEON 9500 PRO and RADEON 9700 PRO cards, so expectations were high for CATALYST 3.3.
As you can see however, the CATALYST 3.3 driver release was cancelled. Apparently the CATALYST driver team finished their 3.4 release earlier than expected, allowing them to skip over 3.3. At the time some were worried that they’d have to wait awhile to see the performance optimizations. Last week’s debut of CATALYST 3.4 in our GeForce FX 5900 and RADEON 9800 PRO 256MB articles proved that this wasn’t the case. But do the new drivers come with a performance boost? Yes! ATI has also added a few new additions to the CATALYST control panel.
One of the biggest changes in CATALYST 3.4 is the enhanced color management system. Users can now define profiles for specific games and applications and can toggle between them with the use of hotkeys. This is a real handy feature for darker games. ATI has also added FULLSTREAM support to DivX player 2.1 and greater. Finally, ATI has designed a new user interface for REMOTE WONDER and Multimedia Center software dubbed EAZYLOOK.
There were also some reports that AA quality has decreased in CATALYST 3.4, but we couldn’t see any differences:
On our end, we’ve made a few changes as well. We’ve added Splinter Cell to our suite of benchmarks tested, as well as the RADEON 9800 PRO (128MB) and RADEON 9600 PRO. This brings the grand total of cards tested to seven: the RADEON 9800 PRO, RADEON 9700 PRO, RADEON 9600 PRO, RADEON 9500 PRO, RADEON 9500, RADEON 9000 PRO, and RADEON 8500. This expanded set of tests should give you a good idea of how things stack up in ATI’s entire family of DirectX 8 and DirectX 9 products. Now on to the benchmarks!
CATALYST 3.2 delivered a performance boost in 3DMark 03 for RADEON 8500 and RADEON 9000 PRO owners, but that isn’t the case for CATALYST 3.4. We do however see enhanced performance for RADEON 9500 and up. The RADEON 9700 PRO sees the largest gains, 6% at 1024x768.
3DMark03 – Wings of Fury
3DMark03 – Battle of Proxycon
3DMark03 – Troll’s Lair
3DMark03 – Mother Nature
As you can see, the bulk of the 3DMark 03 gains for RADEON 9800 PRO and RADEON 9700 PRO comes from game test four, mother nature. This is the most advanced test in 3DMark 03, utilizing 2.0 pixel and vertex shaders. RADEON 9800 PRO’s performance is enhanced by 8% while the RADEON 9700 PRO runs 12% faster thanks to CATALYST 3.4.
Serious Sam 2 - OpenGL
Performance in Serious Sam is roughly unchanged in Serious Sam 2 with CATALYST 3.4.
Splinter Cell - DirectX
Like Serious Sam, the CATALYST 3.4 drivers don’t have an impact on Splinter Cell.
Quake III - High Quality
We see a slight performance gain for the RADEON 9500 in Quake 3 with CATALYST 3.4 at low resolutions, but the margin is incredibly slim, less than 1%.
Comanche 4 demo
In a bit of a surprise, the RADEON 9800 PRO’s performance slips by a few percentage points, while the RADEON 9700 PRO gets the performance it lost in CATALYST 3.2 back in 3.4. Overall the changes aren’t nearly as significant as the ones you’re about to see however.
Unreal Tournament 2003 - flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 - botmatch
UT performance improves by seven percent in flyby at 1024x768, although that’s the most significant gain that we saw. ATI claimed some pretty significant gains for the RADEON 9600 PRO, so we’ll be curious to see if they pan out in our testing with anti-aliasing enabled.
Jedi Knight II – High Quality
We were pretty surprised by the RADEON 8500’s performance drop in Jedi Knight II at 800x600 and 1024x768, so we re-installed the OS and Jedi Knight II: same results (likewise for the performance increase at 1280x1024). Other than that, we don’t see any significant differences in this test.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch
We see performance gains across the board in UT 2003 once anisotropic filtering and 4x AA are enabled. Look at that RADEON 9700 PRO score at 800x600x32: a whopping 20% performance boost! The CATALYST 3.4 driver boosts RADEON 9600 PRO performance by roughly 8%, making these two cards the big winners in this test.
Quake III – High Quality
We see performance enhancements in Quake 3 once anti-aliasing is enabled, once again all DX9 cards benefit from CATALYST 3.4. RADEON 9800 PRO and RADEON 9700 PRO performance increase varies from 4-5% depending on the particular resolution, while RADEON 9500 PRO gains are as large as 6%. Even the RADEON 9500 sees a performance increase of approximately 2%.
Quake III – High Quality
The margins remain roughly the same with anisotropic filtering enabled, we also see that the performance hit isn’t very significant.
DirectX 8 card owners
We haven’t seen any significant performance increases for you guys in quite awhile. Upgrade to CATALYST 3.4 if you’re experiencing problems with your current display driver and certain games, or if you like the new features that have been incorporated, but don’t expect a performance increase. CATALYST 2.5 was probably the last significant release for you; the CATALYST driver team has had a year to optimize the performance of your graphics card.
DirectX 9 card owners
Once again the CATALYST driver team has delivered solid performance gains for DirectX 9 card owners. We saw the most significant gains for RADEON 9700 PRO and RADEON 9600 PRO in particular, but to be honest, all DX9 card owners will benefit from CATALYST 3.4 once AA and anisotropic filtering are cranked up.
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