Summary: ATI's CATALYST driver team has been busy releasing newer drivers all summer long, CATALYST 3.7 is now the latest and greatest. These drivers come with enhanced compatibility, resolving issues in a wide range of games and applications. ATI also claims some performance enhancements with this new driver. We decided to put this driver update to the test in today's article. See how it performs with cards ranging from the RADEON 8500 all the way up to the RADEON 9800 PRO right here!
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.
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season (Bristol custom demo)
Before you ask, yes, we made sure to disable vsync in our testing with NASCAR 2003. We’ve found that RADEON cards perform better in this game on the nForce2 platform than Intel’s 875P, this continues with CATALYST 3.7. Performance is unchanged with the new driver.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
Like NASCAR 2003, the performance numbers don’t change in Forgotten Battles with the new CATALYST 3.7 driver.
Quake III - OpenGL
As you can see, performance in Quake 3 remains unchanged on all cards in our testing, even on the RADEON 8500. Let’s take a look at another title that was reported to perform better with CATALYST 3.7.
Unreal Tournament 2003 – Direct3D
At low resolution, we see gains of nearly 8% for RADEON 9800 PRO, and just a little bit more for RADEON 9700 PRO. Even RADEON 9500 owners get a small performance boost! As the screen resolution increases however the gains decrease until the cards are constrained by the hardware at 1600x1200.
Splinter Cell – Direct3D
Although it’s based on a derivative of the UT2003 engine, we don’t see the tremendous gains for DX9 users in Splinter Cell. Performance is essentially the same as CATALYST 3.6.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB
Unreal Tournament 2003
Under the greater demands of 4xAA, the added performance CATALYST 3.7 brings is increased, up to 11% for the RADEON 9800 PRO. In fact, we see gains all the way up to 1600x1200.
DirectX 8 card owners
It has been awhile since we’ve really been able to recommend a driver update for those of you with DX8 cards that are looking for more performance; ATI has wrought all they’re going to get out of your hardware. Therefore, don’t expect any significant developments anytime soon.
DirectX 9 card owners
Likewise, little has changed from a performance perspective in most applications for DX9 owners. The one exception to this is Unreal Tournament 2003. We saw across the board performance improvements on all DX9 cards tested, and with AA enabled, at all resolutions. Unfortunately this didn’t transfer over to another game based on that engine, Splinter Cell, but hardcore UT fans should enjoy the added performance. And with the RADEON 9800 PRO running neck-and-neck with GeForce FX 5900 Ultra in UT 2003 with CATALYST 3.6, we believe the added performance present in CATALYST 3.7 should be enough for ATI to claim the performance crown in this application.
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