AMD Catalyst 12.1 Preview Profiles and Performance

AMD recently released a preview of Catalyst 12.1. This new driver allows CrossFireX profile creation for games that are not currently supported in Catalyst or Catalyst Application Profiles software. We will explain the new features, how to use them, and test performance of the various modes supported.

Introduction

On December 12th, AMD posted a preview version of its Catalyst 12.1 driver, which is set to be finalized and released next month. Among the changes is a system through which gamers can create CrossFireX profiles for specific games. NVIDIA has had this kind of feature in place for a very long time, but it is new for AMD. In these game profiles, gamers can finally customize CrossFireX settings for their games. This means that when new games come out without CrossFireX support either built in or already supported by an available Catalyst driver or Application Profiles package from AMD, gamers can now force CrossFireX modes. Along with CrossFireX options, we can also save specific rendering options (such as forced Anisotropic Filtering, VSYNC, or Anti-Aliasing) for individual games, rather than only having global options which apply to every game. It is a terribly late addition, but a very welcome one. Recent AMD graphics cards owner outcry is no doubt the "catalyst" behind the move. CrossFireX support has been arriving later and later behind new game titles leaving the top end Radeon users in the dark. Why it has taken AMD this long to remedy this issue is beyond us, but hopefully AMD has finally filled this performance void for CrossFireX users. Let's see how AMD has done this time.


Custom Profile Testing

First, we are going to show our readers how to create a custom profile for a game. It is worth nothing that this process differs greatly from NVIDIA's system. Second, we're going to make sure it actually works. For this verification, we are going to use Battlefield 3 single player for testing. BF3 had CrossFireX support at launch, so we already know what to look for in terms of performance when we force these various CrossFireX options and override the built in profiles.

Creating An Application Profile

After downloading and installing the Catalyst 12.1 preview package and rebooting, we noticed a new main menu option on startup.

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On the left hand side, between the familiar "3D Application Settings" and "AMD CrossFireX" menu listings is the new "Application Profiles" option. When we click on that option, we see an interface informing us that we have not yet created any application profiles, and that if we want to do so, that is done on the "3D Applications Settings" page.

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When we then clicked on "3D Application Settings," we immediately see something new. At the top of that page, there is now an "Application Profiles" control group box. Its placement at the top of this page is somewhat confusing. From an end-user standpoint, it might have been more logical for AMD to move these options to the bottom. If we scroll down the "3D Application Settings" control page, we do see one more new option at the very bottom.

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There is another new control group box, this one labeled "AMD CrossFireX Mode for 3D Applications." Predictably enough, this box controls the CrossFireX mode used by 3D Applications and games. There are five options here. The first is "Disabled." This option turns off CrossFireX multi-GPU acceleration. The second option "Default" uses whatever the global system default option is, or whatever AMD has configured, if the game already has a profile in the CAP package. The 3rd option is "AFR Friendly," which is for games which generally work well with Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR). The fourth option, "Optimize 1x1." This is another AFR option, but with optimizations for 1x1 surfaces. The idea is, if "AFR Friendly" has problems, "Optimize 1x1" is another option to try.

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The last option, "Use AMD Pre-Defined Profile" allows us to select the CrossFireX configuration of another game and apply it to the one for which we are making a profile. If, for example, a game powered by the Unreal Engine 3 comes out, and it doesn't have CrossFireX support built-in, we can choose from a game on the list which also uses UE3 (such as Unreal Tournament 3 or BioShock), and apply that game's CrossFireX configuration to the new game.

How do we create a custom profile for a specific game? It's easy, but it does take some explanation. It is not done on the "Application Profiles" control page, but in the "3D Application Settings" control page, so we have to make sure that we are on the "3D Application Settings" page.

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For now, we ignore the new "Application Profiles" control group. First thing is to select the 3D settings we want the game to use. If you want to force a specific mode of anti-aliasing for a game, choose it. If you want 16X AF in this game, choose it. Third, scroll down to the bottom of the "3D Application Setting" page and find the "AMD CrossFireX Mode for 3D Applications." We're using Battlefield 3 here. BF3 manages its own AA well enough, so we'll leave that alone. For the purpose of this article, we'll force 16X AF, and make sure that VSYNC is forced off. We know that BF3 is an AFR friendly title, so we'll choose "AFR Friendly" in the CrossFireX mode option.

Lastly, we scroll all the way back up and click the "Save" button in the "Application Profiles" control group.

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When we click "Save," it brings up the standard Windows file browsing dialog box. With this dialog box, we find the executable file for the game for which we are making a profile. Important Note: If the game in question has a separate launcher application, don't choose it. Choose the actual game executable, not the launcher. So if we were making a profile for Skyrim, we would choose "TESV.exe," not "SkyrimLauncher.exe.". But we're making a profile for Battlefield 3, so we navigated to that game's directory and selected the "bf3.exe" application file. After we selected that file, we were presented with a series of dialog boxes.

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AMD already has a profile for Battlefield 3, so we were presented with a dialog box asking us if we would like to override the pre-defined BF3 profile with the options we just selected. We clicked "Yes." The next dialog box told us that the application profile has been updated. We clicked "OK," and we were back at the "3D Application Settings" page of the Catalyst Control Center. Once back there, we clicked on the "Application Profiles" option to check out our shiny new profiles.

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When we launch "bf3.3xe" we can now expect the listed graphics settings to override the Catalyst Control Center global settings, and (if the game allows it) to override the game's internal settings. Which games allow the overriding of which features is up to the developers and AMD, and is beyond the scope of this article. If we create more profiles, they are seen on the same page. When we click on a profile, we have two options: "Delete" and "Use as Current Settings." Clicking the "Delete" option, predictably enough, deletes the profile. Clicking the "Use as Current Settings" option sets the 3D settings and CrossFireX setting from the profile as the global Catalyst Control Center options. Both the "Delete" and "Use as Current Settings" buttons provide confirmation prompts before either action is taken.


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