AMD’s much-talked-about beta Catalyst driver that fixes their Crossfire stuttering issues was due to launch yesterday, 31 July 2013. Unfortunately, it was delayed for further testing and was released on 1 August 2013 (2 August for us South Africans).
The driver promises to fix serious issues that have been affecting AMD’s Crossfire technology for close on a decade. When pairing two AMD Radeon graphics cards together, some games and benchmarks will show a high frame count, but the result on your screen is significantly different.
The system may drop frames altogether (not displaying them) or have issues with splicing frames together or there may even be something called a runt frame – a frame which makes it on-screen, but doesn’t show anything.
Finally, a permanent fix
The latest drivers look almost identical to the previous Catalyst version, but now include a single new option – Frame rating can be turned on or off.
By default it’s enabled and if you already have two cards set up in Crossfire, Crossfire mode is on by default as well. The driver manages frame rates and latencies much better this time round and supports a large amount of configurations.
Highlights of the Windows AMD Catalyst 13.8 Beta release:
- Support for CrossFire Frame Pacing
- Frame Pacing ensures that frames rendered across multiple GPUs in a CrossFire configuration will be displayed at an even and regular pace
- Enabled through the AMD Catalyst Control Center; Globally or on a per application basis
- Supported for DirectX 10 and DirectX 11 applications and resolutions up and including 2560×1600 (single display)
- OpenGL 4.3 support – full support for the OpenGL 4.3 feature set
- Performance improvements found in AMD Catalyst 13.8 Beta:
- Metro Last Light – Improves performance up to 7% on the AMD Radeon HD 7000 Series
- OpenGL support for User Profiles and Catalyst Application Profiles:
- Users can now create per application 3D setting profiles for OpenGL applications
- OpenGL applications are now supported through Catalyst Application Profile updates (for single GPU and AMD CrossFire configurations)
- AMD Enduro Technology enhancement – The AMD Catalyst Control Center now shows which applications are active on the Performance GPU and the Power saving GPU
Note that the drivers are only for Windows 7 and 8 for now – Vista isn’t supported, but may be added in soon. In addition, only games that use DirectX 10 or 11 render paths will benefit from the frame metering improvements, while DirectX 9 titles are going to be very much a hit-and-miss affair.
AMD has also announced that these drivers will work for several generations of products – Crossfire users with HD5000, HD6000 and HD7000 GPUs will see improvements from the beta driver. Dual graphics mode with a desktop APU and a HD6000 card is untested and the frame metering option does not show up for users with AMD Llano-based APUs.
Multi-monitor setups will also not benefit from this driver. Catalyst 13.8 only supports frame metering on a single monitor. It will work on a UltreHD 4K display as well, so long as you run the monitor at 30Hz refresh rates from a single cable. As AMD notes, these are beta drivers, and more fixes will be coming soon.
Fixing a problem that doesn’t exist?
Many PC gamers have asked if fixes like these are necessary at all – after all, most people sensitive to stutter and frame latency set up a Crossfire rig, dial up the settings as high as they can go, and then enable V-Sync to smooth out the frame rates, removing the issue of dropped and runt frames.
However, V-Sync adds in a large amount of input lag, slowing down the game’s reaction time to your real-world movements. I personally have been more sensitive to V-Sync lag in modern games than at any other point in time and now play with it off, choosing to rather push up my graphics settings to a comfortably playable level instead.
Today, multi-GPU setups not only add in lag on their own thanks to the digital wizardry required to make the technology work, but this is piled on top of the lag from V-Sync and possibly even from your monitor as well. It may get as high as 200ms – one fifth of a second – which means that your reaction time to what’s happening in the game is lower, causing you to miss times shots and critical button presses.
Eliminating lag as much as possible is key to a better gaming experience. While these drivers involve extra work for the game developers and the graphics driver teams, this is solving the problem by going to the root of it, as opposed to plastering over the issue by enabling V-Sync.