Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

2012 AMD Video Card Driver Performance Review

We continuing our look at driver performance improvements over time by evaluating AMD’s 2012 driver performances on both the AMD Radeon HD 7970 and HD 7950 video cards. We will see how drivers from the beginning of the year to the end of year have impacted real world gameplay performance .

Introduction

We have already evaluated the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 and GTX 670 video cards with WHQL drivers in our 2012 NVIDIA Driver Performance Review. In this article we will be looking at the AMD Radeon HD 7970 (first version non-GHz Edition) and HD 7950 video cards, and testing performance with each of the WHQL drivers, and key BETA drivers that were released during 2012. Our goal is to see how the drivers affect the performance in some of the most popular games of 2012, and what kind of performance increases are possible just by improving software. We want to guage how well AMD did in 2012 when it comes to drivers, just as we've already looked at NVIDIA in the same light previously.

We will be using the same four games in this evaluation that we did for the NVIDIA driver roundup. We have chosen to use these four popular games for very specific reasons. Of these four games, two were released at the end of 2011 and therefore existed the entire year of 2012. One game was released in the middle of 2012, and another game was released at the end of 2012. In these four games, we have chosen three DirectX 11 games, and one DX9 game.

The two games that were out the entire year of 2012 will show us how game specific driver updates have affected performance throughout the entire year. The third game that was released mid-year will show us a game that wasn't out when the cards were launched, but later on might have received driver updates. The fourth game is a brand new game that just came out in December of 2012, and therefore did not receive driver specific updates for its performance until December. What this game can tell us is if there were raw driver performance improvements throughout the year that might affect things like shader performance in an overall encompassing way that inherently has improved performance in all games, or not. Therefore, this is a good mix of two games that were out the entire year, at card launch, a game mid-year, not at card launch, and a game at end of the year, way before drivers would have ever been specifically optimized or thought about for the game.

Far Cry 3 was released on December 4th, 2012, and is the newest game that we will be looking at. It uses the DX11 API and includes several DX11 features like advanced ambient occlusion and alpha to coverage. FC3 being released at the end of the year will serve as a marauder for why we are not using all recently released games. All drivers leading up to the games release will allow the video cards to run at their true performance. We will only see noticeable performance gain once we install the driver that is released with the game, or after the game's launch. You can read more about it in our Far Cry 3 Gameplay Performance and IQ evaluation.

Max Payne 3 comes from one of gaming's most familiar franchises. It is a DX11 game that supports tessellation and advanced ambient occlusion settings like HDAO. This game was released on May 31st, right in the middle of the year. High resolutions and high AA settings combined with the available DX11 features have shown that MP3 is still be one of the more demanding games on the market. You can read more about it in our Max Payne 3 Performance and IQ evaluation.

The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim took up countless weeks of many of our lives, and will be occupying the spot of our DX9 game. It is also one of gaming's more familiar game franchises. It was released on November 11th, 2011 meaning that it was out during the entire life of the Radeon HD 7000 series, and all of its drivers. Being such a popular game there were several bug fixes and performance boosts to look at over the different driver families. You can read more about it in our Skyrim Gameplay Performance Review.

Battlefield 3 Multiplayer will be our fourth, and oldest game in this evaluation. It was released on October 25th, 2011. BF3 is arguably the best online first person shooter game from 2011 to now. Being another one of the more popular games, AMD took a lot of time fixing bugs and improving performance of this game. You can read more about it in our Battlefield 3 Gameplay Performance and IQ evaluation.


Drivers

As we mentioned, we will be using the AMD Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950 video cards in order to test the 2012 drivers. We chose not to include the Radeon HD 7870 or Radeon HD 7850 video cards because they were launched later on in the year and did not have driver support for the first several drivers. This is also the same reason why we didn't include the GHz Edition 7970, it is after all just a clock bumped 7970. The Radeon HD 7970 existed the entire year of 2012 so we can test drivers from the beginning. There are seven graphics drivers that we will be using for Radeon HD 7970 and six drivers that we will be using for the Radeon HD 7950. Listed below are the drivers that we will be using for this evaluation.

RC11 Driver dated January 25th, 2012. This was the first public driver that became available with the AMD Radeon HD 7000 series video cards. It also brought users the ability to turn on SSAA and Adaptive AA through the Catalyst Control Panel.

Catalyst 12.2 dated March 12th, 2012. This driver added HydraVision for Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers.

Catalyst 12.3 dated March 28th, 2012. This driver did not have any game specific performance increases, but resolved several issues with the Windows 7 operating system. It was also the first driver to fully support the AMD Radeon HD 7900, HD 7800, and HD 7700 series of video cards.

Catalyst 12.4 dated April 25th, 2012. Significantly improved Morphological AA (MLAA) performance, and texture filtering performance. Also added support for Windows XP with all HD 7000 series video cards.

Catalyst 12.6 dated June 6th, 2012. This driver added several game profiles, including Skyrim, Diablo 3, and Portal 2. It also resolved a large number of Windows 7 OS problems.

Catalyst 12.8 dated August 15th, 2012. This was the first driver to add Windows 8 support.

Catalyst 12.11 Beta 11 dated December 3rd, 2012. This was the first driver to improve performance in Far Cry 3 by up to 25% This driver also includes up to a 5% performance gain in Max Payne 3, and between 10 and 15% better performance in Battlefield 3.

We used the latest Catalyst Application Profile available at the time for each driver. While the CAP adds profiles to be used in CrossFire setups, it often times adds a small performance increase for single GPU setups. Remember, at the beginning of June, last year, AMD announced it would stop regular Catalyst monthly updates. Therefore, this is why you start to see gaps in drivers between WHQL versions. There were several betas between those gaps, but the latest WHQL post-Beta includes all the updates the Beta had in it.


Test Setup

We will be using a GIGABYTE Z77X-UP4-TH motherboard, an Intel Core i7 3770k Overclocked at 4.8GHz, and 8GB of Corsair RAM.

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We will evaluate the Radeon HD 7970 and Radeon HD 7950 separately from each other. We will be looking at the video cards performance using the drivers listed above, in the games listed above. This will give us an idea of how the driver software has advanced over the year since the release of the Radeon HD 7000 series.