AMD/ATI Catalyst Control Centre Improvements Page: 1
Introduction

For some time now ATI has been fighting for the top spot in graphics processing cards, caught in an on going game of one-upmanship with Nvidia. ATI have created some seriously good value for money cards in the past few years and pound for pound have generally had the performance crown. However, ATI have not had the same level of success with their software. The Catalyst Control Centre does, in quite a few cases, put people off buying an ATI card. The same can be said about the bloated drivers and general slow performance of the GUI. Nevertheless, with Windows Vista coming onto the market and ATI fresh from their merger with AMD, CCC and its drivers have been given a new chance to prove themselves and the results look very promising indeed....


What Is Being Released

The current release plan outlines three main releases, CCC 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3.

The first, 7.1 is the new release aimed at Vista, the main features of which we will be covering in this article. The second, 7.2 is the new release aimed at bringing these improvements to Windows XP. The third, 7.3 will be much the same as the first but carrying some major background alterations such as OpenGL support.


The Improvements


The new Catalyst Control Center 7.1 has been packed with a plethora of user friendly adjustments, for both novice and advanced user alike.


Blue Ray & HD DVD


Firstly AMD have added support for the upcoming BlueRay and HD DVD when used in conjunction with the entire X1000 range. Furthermore they have integrated a load balancing system to correctly distribute load between CPU and GPU. Naturally the GPU will have to support HDCP and the display device support HD @ 1080p but such things are becoming more and more commonplace.

Decoding process

Lastly, Catalyst 7.1 will be carrying support from ISV's such as Cyberlink and Intervideo, support for 32bit XP, 32bit Vista and come 7.3, 64bit Vista support.


ATI Crossfire Support


Catalyst Control Center 7.1 carries the same Crossfire support seen in previous releases, and at resolutions of 1600 x 1200 (4xAA and 8xAF) with equal (and in some cases better) performance than XP.

In later updates, AMD plan to add OpenGL Crossfire support and Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) as default for all applications (as currently currently in Windows XP).


Performance Improvements

The main point of the revamp is to improve performance, in particular performance with Windows Vista. With all Radeon 9000, X300-X800 and X1000 cards carrying the Vista logo of approval, we have an assurance that the Vista Aero interface will run fluidly.

We also have some performance figures, comparing CCC performance on XP to Vista.

Performance Levels
Click to enlarge

As you can see, the performance on Vista is near identical, and in some cases better, which, considering the strain Vista exerts on most current computer system, is very impressive.

This however, leaves most of us asking how these figures for Vista match up against Nvidias equivalent. Thankfully AMD have got some figures for that aswell and they're more of the same - very impressive.

Performance Comparison


Stability

Driver stability was one of the main concerns facing previous versions of CCC. This time around however, AMD have been working in close conjunction with Windows to ensure the highest level of stability within Vista.

"From day one, ATI played a key role in helping us design and validate the new driver model at the heart of Windows Vista and ATI has since developed extremely robust and performant drivers that highlight the capabilities of our new operating system."

Division, Microsoft Corporation
Chris Jones, Corporate VP Windows Core OS


This development partnership has been going on for over 4 years now so we can expect to see more than just promises. AMD also promise to continue the release trend seen with XP based CCCs, by releasing a new WHQL certified driver every month, as they have done for several years.


The New Control Center

The 7.1 Vista release of Catalyst Control Center has been designed with some more new features, the first of which that I shall mention is the new Installer, there isn't much to say on this front other than it is meant to be faster during installation and uninstallation than ever before.

The second improvement takes us back to the performance enhancements with some major architectural changes being made to the control center. The advantages of which can be seen here:

improvements

The image above shows some fairly substantial changes to how the control center operates and as you can see, has great effect on loading times. This coupled with the lower resource usage will undoubtedly help while running on Vista - which is quite the system hog in comparison to XP. However, these performance boosts are not limited to Vista, the optimization of the CCC has a dramatic effect on computers running XP as well. Infact, the largest performance gain comes on low end computers running XP...

stats

When looking at the specifications for the 'High-end System' one can see that this actually falls a fair bit short of the standard enthusiasts computer and with C2D performance levels at what they are we can expect very dramatic decreases in loading time.


New Features

The new Catalyst Control Center, as I mention above, carries some helpful extras. The GUI remains much the same, meaning users don't have much to adjust to, which on a new Operating System will be quite a relief. The first addition here is the new 3D Preview function. This feature allows users to get a live preview of what exactly is affected by certain alterations such as Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering. The preview window splits in the middle, giving a 'before and after' sort of effect, which in my opinion is a fantastic addition for the novice user.

The preview has both a Static and Live mode. Windows XP will be limited solely to the Static preview, whereas Vista will be able to run both. Both will support the ability to zoom in to high magnification to get a real look at what is actually happening when they make alterations.

3D Preview system

Another advancement that will be available at a slightly later date is the Catalyst Install Manager. This is another integrated feature which allows user to manually or automatically download any available updates. We are told that the update manager will only download updates that are not already included in the installed version or updates that have already been downloaded, thus reducing the size of the downloads.

Two further updates that have already been planned are CCC for Linux and MultiSample Adaptive Anti-Aliasing.

The Linux CCC will not be as feature packed as the Windows versions and will initially include:

  • Display and Panel Settings
  • 3D settings - Vsync, Quad Buffer support, Anti Aliasing etc..
  • PowerPlay Settings
  • Information (HW and SW)
  • Colour Adjustments

AMD did mention however that it is their intention to bring the level of features seen in CCC Linux to the same seen in Windows versions.

And last but by no means least, the MultiSample Adaptive Anti-Aliasing. Until now, Adaptive AA was only able to make use of Super Sampling. The new CCC will allow Multi Sampling on all alpha blended / transparent layers, greatly improving image quality with a minimal toll on performance.

So all in all it would appear that at the moment, ATI graphics solutions are the way to go for the best vista experience, and if the future updates are much of the same, will be for some time.

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