For longer than AMD would like to admit, Radeon drivers and software were often criticized for plaguing issues on performance, stability and features. As the graphics card market evolved and software became a critical part of the equation, that deficit affected AMD substantially.
In fact, despite the advantages that modern AMD Radeon parts typically have over GeForce options in terms of pure frame rate for your dollar, I recommended an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, 980 and 980 Ti for our three different VR Build Guides last month ($900, $1500, $2500) in large part due to confidence in NVIDIA’s driver team to continue delivering updated drivers to provide excellent experiences for gamers.
But back in September of 2015 we started to see changes inside AMD. There was drastic reorganization of the company and those people in charge. AMD setup the Radeon Technologies Group, a new entity inside the organization that would have complete control over the graphics hardware and software directions. And it put one of the most respected people in the industry at its helm: Raja Koduri. On November 24th AMD launched Radeon Software Crimson, a totally new branding, style and implementation to control your Radeon GPU. I talked about it at the time, but the upgrade was noticeable; everything was faster, easier to find and…pretty.
Since then, AMD has rolled out several new drivers with key feature additions, improvements and of course, game performance increases. Thus far in 2016 the Radeon Technologies Group has released 7 new drivers, three of which have been WHQL certified. That is 100% more than they had during this same time last year when AMD released zero WHQL drivers and a big increase over the 1 TOTAL driver AMD released in Q1 of 2015.
Maybe most important of all, the team at Radeon Technologies Group claims to be putting a new emphasis on “day one” support for major PC titles. If implemented correctly, this gives enthusiasts and PC gamers that want to stay on the cutting edge of releases the ability to play optimized titles on the day of release. Getting updated drivers that fix bugs and improve performance weeks or months after release is great, but for gamers that may already be done with that game, the updates are worthless. AMD was guilty of this practice for years, having driver updates that would fix performance issues on Radeon hardware for reviewer testing but that missed the majority of the play time of early adopting consumers.
Thus far, AMD has only just started down this path. Newer games like Far Cry Primal, The Division, Hitman and Ashes of the Singularity all had drivers from AMD on or before release with performance improvements, CrossFire profiles or both. A few others were CLOSE to day one ready including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Plants vs Zombies 2 and Gears of War Ultimate Edition.
|Game||Release Date||First Driver Mention||Driver Date||Feature / Support|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider||01-28-2016||16.1.1||02-05-2016||Performance and CrossFire Profile|
|Plants vs Zombies 2||02-23-2016||16.2.1||03-01-2016||Performance|
|Gears Ultimate Edition||03-01-2016||16.3||03-10-2016||Performance|
|Far Cry Primal||03-01-2016||16.2.1||03-01-2016||CrossFire Profile|
|The Division||03-08-2016||16.1||02-25-2016||CrossFire Profile|
|Hitman||03-11-2016||16.3||03-10-2016||Performance, CrossFire Profile|
|Need for Speed||03-15-2016||16.3.1||03-18-2016||Performance, CrossFire Profile|
|Ashes of the Singularity||03-31-2016||16.2||02-25-2016||Performance|
AMD claims that the push for this “day one” experience will continue going forward, pointing at a 35% boost in performance in Quantum Break between Radeon Crimson 16.3.2 and 16.4.1. There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks and months to test AMD (and NVIDIA) on this “day one” focus with PC titles that will have support for DX12, UWP and VR.
The software team at RTG has also added quite a few interesting features since the release of the first Radeon Crimson driver. Support for the Vulkan API and a DX12 capability called Quick Response Queue, along with new additions to the Radeon settings (Per-game display scaling, CrossFire status indicator, power efficiency toggle, etc.) are just a few.
Critical for consumers that were buying into VR, the Radeon Crimson drivers launched with support alongside the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both of these new virtual reality systems are putting significant strain on the GPU of modern PCs and properly implementing support for techniques like timewarp is crucial to enabling a good user experience. Though Oculus and HTC / Valve were using NVIDIA based systems more or less exclusively during our time at the Game Developers Summit last month, AMD still has approved platforms and software from both vendors. In fact, in a recent change to the HTC Vive minimum specifications, Valve retroactively added the Radeon R9 280 to the list, giving a slight edge in component pricing to AMD.
AMD was also the first to enable full support for external graphics solutions like the Razer Core external enclosure in its drivers with XConnect. We wrote about that release in early March, and I’m eager to get my hands on a product combo to give it a shot. As of this writing and after talking with Razer, NVIDIA had still not fully implemented external GPU functionality for hot/live device removal.
When looking for some acceptance metric, AMD did point us to a survey they ran to measure the approval and satisfaction of Crimson. After 1700+ submission, the score customers gave them was a 4.4 out of 5.0 - pretty significant praise even coming from AMD customers. We don't exactly how the poll was run or in what location it was posted, but the Crimson driver release has definitely improved the perception that Radeon drivers have with many enthusiasts.
I’m not going to sit here and try to impart on everyone that AMD is absolved of past sins and we should immediately be converted into believers. What I can say is that the Radeon Technologies Group is moving in the right direction, down a path that shows a change in leadership and a change in mindset. I talked in September about the respect I had for Raja Koduri and interviewed him after AMD’s Capsaicin event at GDC; you can already start to see the changes he is making inside this division. He has put a priority on software, not just on making it look pretty, but promising to make good on proper multi-GPU support, improved timeliness of releases and innovative features. AMD and RTG still have a ways to go before they can unwind years of negativity, but the ground work is there.
The company and every team member has a sizeable task ahead of them as we approach the summer. The Radeon Technologies Group will depend on the Polaris architecture and its products to swing back the pendulum against NVIDIA, gaining market share, mind share and respect. From what we have seen, Polaris looks impressive and differentiates from Hawaii and Fiji fairly dramatically. But this product was already well baked before Raja got total control and we might have to see another generation pass before the portfolio of GPUs can change around the institution. NVIDIA isn’t sitting idle and the Pascal architecture also promises improved performance, while leaning on the work and investment in software and drivers that have gotten them to the dominant market leader position they are in today.
I’m looking forward to working with AMD throughout 2016 on what promises to be an exciting and market-shifting time period.