AMD Catalyst Omega Driver (14.50) Officially Launched – Brings Performance Improvement To GPUs/APUs, 4K VSR, TressFX 3.0, 5K Monitor Support and Freesync

AMD has officially launched their latest Catalyst Omega driver which brings several performance updates and a list of new features to AMD's Radeon line of graphics family and their A-Series APU family. We reported about the Catalyst Omega driver last week however, we had to pull our article since the embargo ended on December 9th (as reported by AMD). Hence today, we will be giving you a complete coverage of what to expect from the latest addition in AMD's Catalyst drivers.

AMD Catalyst Omega Driver Boosts Performance, Adds Several New Features For GPUs and APUs

While the drivers adds 20 new features which we will detail in this article, it also fixes several bugs and helps improve performance in several titles, enhancing Crossfire, Mantle, Freesync support in several current and upcoming gaming titles. All the improvements from previously released drivers ((14.2) are carried over to the new ones while adding new features. The new driver is labeled as 14.50 but is tentatively called the Catalyst Omega driver. So starting off with the new features, first of all, we have the latest 4K Virtual Super Resolution technology.

AMD 4K VSR (Virtual Super Resolution) Technology

AMD 4K VSR (Virtual Super Resolution) technology is similar to NVIDIA's 4K DSR (Dynamic Super Resolution) technology. AMD focuses on scaling the monitor to resolutions beyond the native resolution for both games and even Windows desktop. This technology has been missing from AMD Radeon cards for quite a while and it looks like AMD has finally listened to the audience after much demand of this specific feature. With a similar affect as NVIDIA's 4K DSR, the 4K VSR tech provides downsampling in games by delivering 4K quality on a 1080P monitor that enhances AA relative to SSAA (Super Sampling Anti-Aliasing). VSR also enables higher textures and smoother edges. AMD's Radeon R9 295X2, Radeon R9 290X, Radeon R9 290 and Radeon R9 285 can support this feature without any hassle on single and  multi-GPU configurations. You can see the table below for supported VSR modes:

Target Display Timing Supported VSR Modes
1920 X 1080 @ 60Hz 2560 x 1440
3200 x 1800
3840 x 2160 (R9 285 only)
1920 X 1200 @ 60Hz 2048 x 1535
2560 x 1600
3840 x 2400 (R9 285 only)
2560 x 1440 @ 60Hz 3200 x 1800
1920 x 1080 @ 120Hz 1920 x 1200 @ 120Hz
2048 x 1536 @ 120Hz
How to enable VSR from AMD CCC:
  • Open AMD Catalyst Control Center (CCC)
  1. Use the Preferences to switch to Advanced Mode, if it’s not already running.
  2. Open the ‘My Digital Flat Panels’ page.
  3. Place a checkmark in the ‘Enable virtual super resolution’ checkbox and click Apply.
  • Launch a game and use the in-game menus to select a resolution that is HIGHER than the native resolution of your flat panel.

The Windows desktop can also be configured in a similar way, if the VSR benefits are desired for applications that run on the desktop or in a window. Right-click on the Windows desktop and choose ‘Screen resolution’ from the pop-up menu. When VSR is enabled, you will see additional resolutions in the list. Below is a screen capture of the AMD Catalyst Control Center showing the settings tab to enable VSR.

AMD Freesync, 5K Panel Support and 24 Display Eyefinity

The Project Freesync is termed as AMD's effort to bring variable refresh rate monitors to consumers to allow tear free and lag free gaming. While their rival NVIDIA already has solutions based on their G-Sync technology out in the open market, AMD is still a few months away to launch their first Freesync monitors in Q1 2015. The difference between G-Sync and Freesync is that Freesync relies on open standard Adaptive-Sync which has been incorporated into Displayport 1.2A on AMD's proposal to VESA. This allows for lower manufacturing costs and gives users easy access to tear free gaming.

Adaptive-Sync capable monitors solve three distinct issues in games. The first issue is tearing, tearing occurs mainly whenever the frame rate exceeds the refresh rate of the monitor. The second issue is somewhat related to the first, as stuttering can occur if the frame rate exceeds or falls behind the refresh rate. The third issue is input-lag, which occurs when you enable V-Sync to get rid of tearing and stuttering. So before variable refresh rate monitors had existed, irrespective of whether they were G-Sync or FreeSync enabled. You had to choose between either tearing and stuttering or latency.

FreeSync can support any range of refresh rates, for example 24Hz-144Hz, 24Hz-90Hz or even 24Hz-240Hz. And depending on the monitor maker they can opt for whatever range they want. So you can have all sorts of FreeSync monitors that span from the very high end 4K models to the 120Hz/144Hz “gaming” 1440p monitors and the more affordable 90Hz 1080p solutions. Which means that you will more easily find something that fits your needs and budget. When launched, Freesync will be limited to single monitor while multi-monitor support is planned for later. As far as compatibility is concerned, AMD's Freesync will work with AMD's latest FirePro and Radeon R9/R7 GPUs (Radeon R9 295X2, Radeon R9 290X, Radeon R9 290, Radeon R9 285, Radeon R7 260X, Radeon R7 260) and the Kaveri 7000-Series APUs.

AMD is working with Samsung on five Freesnyc enabled monitors which will be UHD (Ultra HD) compliant with 4K resolution support. These models include two UE590 variants with sizes of 23.6" and 28" while the UE850 variant will be available in 23.6", 27" and 31.5" sizes. The prices are not known but AMD is also working on 5K monitor support.

Since 4K arrived, GPU manufacturers have been racing towards 8K. AMD and NVIDIA are the leading graphics makers of the industry and their goal to race for higher resolution is valid but GPUs still lag behind on 4K so it will take some time for us to see an actual implementation of 8K visuals on a large consumer scale but for now, resolutions like 2K (2560x1440), 4K (3840x2160) and 5K (5120x2880) are going to become more common. For this purpose, AMD is enabling support for higher resolution screens with 5120x2880 @ 60 Hz. The monitor is from Dell and called the UP2715K. It features a pixel count of 14.7 million with density of 218 pixels per inch and includes Dual Display Port 1.2 input.

Requirements for 5K Monitor Support:
  • An AMD GPU with at least two individual DisplayPort 1.2 output ports. GPU output connector configurations vary by brand and model. Check with your graphics board manufacturer.
  • GPUs supported: AMD FirePro, AMD Radeon HD 7000-series , AMD Radeon R-series
How to enable 5K Monitor Support:
  • Connect the 5K panel to an AMD GPU with at least 2x DP 1.2 ports
  • Boot to Windows 8.1
  • The monitor should be automatically configured

Finally, an update to AMD's most iconic technology, Eyefinity, has arrived in the form of 24 Display Eyefinity which now gives users the ability to run smooth, tear free video playback with up to 24 displays (through 4 GPUs).

AMD TressFX 3.0, OpenCL 2.0, HSA 1.0, Mantle, CodeXL 1.6

On the developer front, AMD has announced the latest TressFX 3.0 Hair renderer which has been added to the Catalyst Omega driver that adds rendering of hair on fur on skinned geometries. There are several new libraries included for developers to read and render as opposed to the recent TressFX 2.0 update which improved overal performance.

OpenCL 2.0 and support in SDK 3.0 have been updated with the new driver release giving a truly open programming standard for general purposes computing and heterogeneous systems. OpenCL allows programmers to preserve source code investment and easily target multi-core CPUs, GPUs, and APUs. Developed in an open standards committee with representatives from major industry vendors, OpenCL gives users what they have been demanding: a cross-vendor, non-proprietary solution for accelerating their applications on CPU, GPUs and APUs. AMD, an early supporter of OpenCL and leading innovator and provider of high-performance CPUs, APUs and GPUs, has delivered a complete acceleration platform for OpenCL.


AMD Fluid Motion Video, Contour Removal, 1080P Detail Enhancement, Ultra-HD Like Experience and Full List of Feature Updates

AMD's Fluid Motion technology tries to interpolate inferred frames with real frames and increase overall video frame rate and smoothness when watching Blu-ray videos. The feature can be enabled through CCC and will be supported on AMD's Kaveri lineup (35W+) along with all the GPUs above the Radeon R7 260. Contour removal is a pretty neat technology that removes artifacts from compressed videos enhancing the detail. It can also be enabled via AMD CCC and has the same hardware support. The other two features, 1080P Detail enhancement and UHD-Like Experience enhance a sub-1080P and sub 4K image to superior detail by processing through an in-built algorithm. 1080P detail enhancement works only with Kaveri APU and AMD Radeon R9 285 GPU while the UHD tech will work on Kaveri APUs and Radeon R7 260 or higher GPU. Finally, we have a large list of Omega features to list after which we will move to performance:

  • Compression Artifact Removal 2
  • Detailed Enhancement 2
  • Frame Rate Conversion 2.0
  • Virtual Super Resolution
  • 5K x 3K Display Support
  • Dynamic Refresh Rate (FreeSync)
  • Frame Pacing for Dual Graphics
  • AMD CrossFire Frame Pacing improvements
  • OpenCL 2.0
  • Driver support for CodeXL 1.6
  • OGL ES3.0
  • Faster Display Mode Enumeration
  • Color Gamut Remap
  • VAAPI support for Phase 1 Decode
  • Rotated Eyefinity Support for Radeon R9 285
  • Windows Installer Updates
  • Windows Autodetect Software Utility
  • Linux Distro Specific Packaging
  • Configurable UVD Sessions
  • AMD CrossFire Frame Pacing improvements
    ‒ Designed to reduce stuttering from graphics memory intensive applications: Tomb Raider, Hitman Absolution, Watch Dogs, Far Cry 3
  • Display Mode Enumeration
    Designed to improve on “Plug a display -> See the display” time
  • OpenMP 3.1 on HSA APUs
    AMD and SUSE Linux have collaborated to create a GCC compiler allows OpenMP 3.1 applications to accelerate compute on HSA devices
  • Rotated Eyefinity Support for AMD Radeon R9 285
    Enables a mix of portrait and landscape oriented displays
  • VAAPI support for Phase 1 Decode
    Embedded product feature to enable Video Acceleration API (VAAPI) for Linux®.Enables video decoding in the AMD Catalyst Linux Driver
  • Configurable UVD Sessions
    Embedded product feature to enable up to 20 simultaneous video streams (eg. Video Surveillance showing many camera streams)
  • Color Gamut Remap
    API to permit OEMs enablement of sRGB images on wide gamut displays for more natural colors
  • OpenGL ES3.0 Support
    Support for Windows and Linux
  • Improvements to AMD Catalyst Windows Installer
    Less clicks to get through an install. Installer Windows resizing to match detected display
  • Windows Autodetect Software Utility
    Improved detection of the hardware on which the install is taking place
  • Linux Distro Specific Packaging
    Ubuntu and Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution specific packages – much easier for users of those distributions to install AMD Catalyst Linux drivers

AMD Catalyst Omega Driver Performance Results:AMD Catalyst Omega Driver 14.50_Performance

With all the new features listed and explained, we now come to the performance results. As expected, the Omega drivers carry over all the improvements from previous drivers delivering much better gaming and application experiences. The performance improvement is rated at up to 19% for AMD Radeon R9 290X, 29% for AMD A10-7850K APU and a large list of bug fixes eliminating the crashes and black screen issues which occurred to several AMD users over the previous few months. Compared to the 14.9 drivers, the 14.50 Omega is around 15% better in performance however we will take a closer look.

First of all, we have discrete graphics performance where a Radeon R9 290X is tested with its launch drivers (Catalyst 13.12) versus the Omega drivers (Catalyst 14.50). The result is an increase in all possible gaming tests such as 10% improvement in Batman Arkham Origins at 4K, 16% improvement in Bioshock Infinite at 4K and 11% improvement in Call of Duty Ghosts at 4K. You can see the table below for a more detailed view of the performance results:

On the APU side, Catalyst Omega brings a good round of performance benefits to GCN powered Kaveri APUs. In this test, a A10-7850K with Radeon R7 graphics (512 stream processors) running on Windows 8.1 and 8 GB ram was tested with Catalyst 14.50 versus Catalyst 14.2. The results yield a 29% improvement in Batman Arkham Origins at 1080P, 16% improvement in DOTA 2 at 1080P, 10% improvement in Call of Duty: Advanced War fighter and 5% improvement in StarCraft II at 1080P. You can see the table below for a more detailed view of the performance results:

The Catalyst Omega driver also brings a round of improvement for CrossFire Multi-GPU setups and frame pacing enhancements for dual graphics. In this scenario, an AMD A10-7850K was paired with a Radeon R7 250 graphics card allowing dual graphics offering. To test the validity of the performance update, the performance was tested against the 14.301.1001 driver where Catalyst 14.50 Omega pushed for a 75.39% better frame time in Sniper Elite 3, 45.10% better frame time in Alien Isolation and 12.85% better frame time in Metro Last Light. The gaming FPS also received an average  3-4% improvement.AMD Catalyst Omega Driver 14.50_Frame Pacing Enhancements

AMD Catalyst Omega Driver Bug Fixes:

Bug/Problem Status
14.9 Install issues for intermittent crash or black screen after install Fixed
14.9 Catalyst Control Center issues have occasional AMDMantle64.dll error popups during install Fixed
Online video can sometimes crash when watching Youtube videos with hardware acceleration enabled Fixed
Watching online flash videos in Google Chrome sometimes causes the browser to hang when hardware acceleration is enabled Fixed
Displays that go in to sleep mode intermittently causes the display to not wake up Fixed
AHCI Chipset Drivers can sometimes cause the system to crash on bootup Fixed
144Hz displays in AMD CrossFire configurations can cause intermittent crashing when launching D3D Applications Fixed
Game stuttering or screen tearing in Quad CrossFire Fixed
State of Decay textures can intermittently extrude beyond their boundaries or be corrupted Fixed
HDMI audio stays disabled when a connected TV is disabled and then reenabled Fixed

Alienware Graphics Amplifier Support For AMD Graphics CardsAMD Catalyst Omega Driver 14.50_Alienware Graphics Amplifier

Last month, Alienware announced their graphics amplifier for notebooks which is an external graphics adapter which can support a discrete level graphics card to add more performance for gaming without the need to use SLI or Crossfire configurations in mobility solutions that drain a lot of battery. The graphics amplifier can suppor both AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards with driver updates and AMD even shared some numbers of how much performance a Alienware notebbok will deliver when amplified with a discrete Radeon R9 290X graphics card.

This is all there is to the latest addition to the Catalyst family. AMD revealed during a call that Omega will become the baseline for all the future driver updates so each feature which is introduced with Omega will be carried over to the future driver updates.

Additional Omega Driver Slides:

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