Summary: ATI's CATALYST 3.10 drivers brought increased stability to the platform so what's ATI to do for CATALSYT 4.1? How about adding built-in hardware monitoring to OVERDRIVE! In our CATALYST 4.1 report, we discuss its implementation and what we can expect in the future in this regard from upcoming CATALYST drivers. And of course, it wouldn't be a driver report without compatibility and performance discussion. Read all the details inside!
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.
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.
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.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat (Mig-29 custom demo)
Nascar 2003 Ė Direct3D
Admittedly, NASCAR 2003 has never been the greatest benchmark for highlighting some of the subtle differences in graphics performance, so it was no surprise to see so little changes with CATALYST 4.1. Basically, performance is unchanged.
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Like NASCAR 2003, IL-2 is another title that stresses the entire platform rather that one subsystem like graphics. With the complicated physics calculations that must be performed not only for your aircraft, but all planes in the scene, IL-2 really stresses the CPU and other parts within your PC such as memory. This is why we see so little variation between the various video cards, even at 1600x1200 the RADEON 9700 PRO and RADEON 9800 XT are only separated by a handful of frames per second.
Quake III - OpenGL
Woah, as we mentioned in the intro, we actually see some slight performance gains in Quake 3 for the high-end 256-bit cards at low resolutions. The RADEON 9800 PRO in particular sees a nice 3% performance gain at 800x600. Of course, at the resolutions that count (where youíre most likely to be playing unless you have a very small monitor), 1280x1024 and up, performance is unchanged.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Ė Direct3D
ATI has steadily improved its performance in UT 2003, but unfortunately thatís not the case for CATALYST 4.1. As you can see, performance is largely unchanged from CATALYST 3.10.
Splinter Cell Ė Direct3D
We havenít seen much of a change in Splinter Cell in quite some time. In fact, itís probably been at least four driver revisions. Therefore, no surprises here.
Tomb Raider Ė Direct3D
Call of Duty
In Call of Duty, we actually saw a performance decline for the high-end cards with 256-bit memory interfaces at low resolutions. The RADEON 9800 PRO and 9800 XT in particular see decreases of 7 and 8% respectively at 800x600. Fortunately, we donít see this at 1280x1024 and 1600x1200, the resolutions youíll most likely be playing in.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat Ė Direct3D
Lock On: Modern Air Combat is the most recent addition to our testing suite, and boy does it look good, but bring our testbed system to its knees! All aspects of the system are very heavily taxed, including the hard drive and memory. And as you can see, performance with both drivers is roughly the same.
Unreal Tournament 2003
With built-in hardware monitoring functionality integrated into the driverís control panel, CATALYST 4.1 definitely seems as if itís geared towards the RADEON 9800 XT and RADEON 9600 XT users. But even then, in light of what weíve seen with this driver, weíre not quite sure if itís worth it.
CATALYST 3.10 did an excellent job of resolving some of the nagging issues that have plagued previous CATALYST drivers, including the very annoying Call of Duty stability problems. As far as we can see, CATALYST 4.1 doesnít really build much on top of that, and adds a performance decrease with Enemy Territory.
Because of this, we have a hard time recommending this driver to those of you with non-XT cards that are satisfied with CATALYST 3.10. Chances are good that you wonít find anything new with CATALYST 4.1 that makes it worth the upgrade. And even if you do own an XT board, weíre still not certain if the limited hardware monitoring ATI provides with CATALYST 4.1 is really worth the potential risk of compromising the stability of your system, which is always a risk when you install any new driver.
The bottom line is that ATI did such a good job with CATALYST 3.10 that this driver is one that you should probably skip. CATALYST 4.2 is merely weeks away, so keep your eyes peeled out for that one!
SIDEBAR: What do you think of ATIís latest display driver, have you taken the plunge with CAT 4.1 and found some significant benefits? Speak up in the news comments!
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