AMD's ATI Catalyst 10.2 and 10.3 Preview

AMD’s ATI Catalyst 10.2 and Catalyst 10.3 are receiving many improvements that directly benefit the gameplay experience. CrossFireX profiling system has been completely re-worked, Bezel Compensation is in play, and several other features have been added. If you are an ATI Eyefinity gamer, Bezel Compensation will take the experience one step further.

Introduction

If you thought AMD’s current domination of the gameplay experience ended with the entire lineup of the DX11 Radeon HD 5000 series being released, you’d be thoroughly mistaken. The hardware that powers our games is nothing without the software to drive it. AMD is committed to improving the gameplay experience and giving gamers and hardware enthusiasts the features they demand.

There have been several features that gamers have been demanding for a while now, and AMD is answering the cry of gamers everywhere by introducing some new features in their drivers that directly benefit gamers and should improve the gameplay experience.

Article Image Article Image Article Image

For a very long while, one of my own personal pet peeves has been the way in which AMD handles CrossFireX profiles. While transparent to gamers, the method in which profiles were handled in ATI Catalyst was less flexible than the system employed by NVIDIA’s SLI. Note the key word there, "was." AMD is making some changes that finally catches up with NVIDIA.

Another major feature that gamers have been crying for since the introduction of ATI Eyefinity back in September of 2009, is Bezel Management. We are finally happy to report that AMD has tackled this feature, and will be providing it in Catalyst 10.3 to be released in March. The preview driver we are using today is Catalyst 10.3 and we will show you how to setup Bezel Management and what it will do for you in games.

There are also many other improvements in Catalyst 10.2 and Catalyst 10.3 that will benefit both gamers and HTPC users. Catalyst 10.2 will be launched today, February 17th. Catalyst 10.3 will be launched in March as part of AMD's regular monthly driver updates. There are new features in Catalyst 10.2 and even more features added to Catalyst 10.3. We will break down what is new in each driver, and what it means for you.


Catalyst 10.2

Firstly, let’s dive into what is being launched today in Catalyst 10.2. Notably, the key feature you guys will be most interested in is the complete re-working of the CrossFireX profile system. This should allow better performance in games using CrossFireX.

CrossFireX Profile Rearchitecture

Article Image

One great commitment that AMD has succeeded in, is monthly ATI Catalyst Software Suite updates. Every month you can bet on receiving a new WHQL Catalyst driver for your AMD GPU based hardware. This has been great, and it has worked out really well for gamers. While this is all good, and quite a fast delivery of new software drivers, it still isn’t frequent enough to catch up to game releases.

One of the fundamental problems is that it takes time to work up a new driver release and wait on Microsoft WHQL certification. By the time a new driver is ready, there may have already been, or soon to come, game releases that have not been tested with the driver. This means that CrossFireX profiles lag well behind game releases, and gamers end up having to wait a month or more for a driver update to benefit from their CrossFireX configuration.

The main reason why this is the case is because in the past, the CrossFireX profiles have been bound to the actual driver itself. Therefore, you can only receive CrossFireX profile updates with the monthly driver updates. This is not how NVIDIA SLI profiles work, and for a very long time now NVIDIA has done it a different and better way. With NVIDIA SLI, the driver installs a .XML file onto your computer that contains the SLI profile information. This allows you to go in and manually edit the profiles, and it gives NVIDIA some flexibility.

Well, finally, AMD has caught up to this method and realized this is a much better way to do things. Catalyst 10.2 removes the CrossFireX profiles from the driver and moves them into a XML file. However, it should be noted that the XML file is not actually placed on the hard drive anywhere like NVIDIA’s SLI profiles. Instead, it is a binary that goes in the system driver directory, and is called "atiapfxx.blb."

With NVIDIA, each SLI profile is in an .XML file, and as of July of 2009 NVIDIA has allowed you to update these SLI profiles between driver updates. Since its introduction, these profiles on NVIDIA's website have been updated four times. The latest one being this update. Similar to this, AMD is going to allow you to also recieve profile only updates between driver releases. By having the CrossFireX profile in a separate XML file from the driver, all AMD has to do is release an executable between driver updates that simply updates this XML file thus updating your profiles! No longer will you have to wait until the next driver release to get new CrossFireX profiles!

AMD will employ a system whereby you go to AMD.com, and there will be downloads, similar to driver updates, where you simply go and download the latest game profiles in the form of an EXE file. This EXE file is very small, only a few hundred kilobytes. Upon running this EXE file, all your game profiles will be updated to the latest available from AMD. This allows AMD to release new profiles as new games are tested and new profiles are updated without you having to wait for the next month’s driver release!

In one fell swoop, AMD has answered two major problems with CrossFireX. They separated CrossFireX profiles from the driver and they are providing a system to update those profiles between driver updates!

Article Image Article Image Article Image Article Image

Here are some screenshots of how this will look. In the first screenshot above you can see we have the driver there and the .EXE containing the latest profiles. You simply install the latest driver just like usual, and the driver always contains the latest profiles too. Then, as time goes on, and you download the latest profiles in the .EXE shown above you simply run it. As you can see in the following screenshots it updates very easy, and no reboot is required. The last screenshot shows where the profiles are stored, and contained within the atiapfxx.blb file.

Other CrossFireX Improvements

Article Image Article Image

There are some other neat improvements in Catalyst 10.2 that apply to CrossFireX. AMD will now employ ATI PowerPlay technology to CrossFireX configurations. This will allow lower power utilization while at idle. This is done by downclocking the secondary (or more) GPUs and memory clocks to very low levels plus reduces voltages, to allow for low power states in multiple-GPU configurations while at idle. In 3D, all GPUs will kick in to gear, but while in Desktop mode, all other GPUs besides the primary, will power down.

Article Image

ATI CrossFireX is now fully supported with ATI Eyefinity. This means now that all CrossFireX configurations will accelerate ATI Eyefinity display groups in your games. This means you can use the Radeon HD 5970, Radeon HD 5870 CrossFireX, Radeon HD 5850 CrossFireX, and on and on and on with ATI Eyefinity.

Article Image

Finally, there are some core driver re-organization of the multi-GPU code that will provide future opportunities and features. AMD has removed the multi-GPU code from the 3D driver component and put it inside a new multi-GPU driver component, separate from the 3D driver. This just simply gives AMD more flexibility with multi-GPU and should allow them to do more things with it in the future, such as further performance improvements and new features.

Other Catalyst 10.2 Improvements

Article Image

The final improvement in Catalyst 10.2 is that you can now pass audio through the DisplayPort to DisplayPort displays to output audio through the speakers on those displays.

To summarize Catalyst 10.2 Feature Improvements, they are as follows:

  • CrossFireX Profile rearchitecture
  • Multi-GPU Code rearchitecture
  • Ultra Low Power State
  • CrossFireX Eyefinity Support
  • DisplayPort Audio