AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition Released – Performance Boosts, Clever Design And A Robust Feature Set, It’s Got It All
As you read this AMD will be launching arguably the most significant graphics driver update for Radeon users in over a decade. Dubbed Radeon Software Crimson Edition the latest software package marks a new chapter in AMD's driver journey, one where we bid Catalyst Software a somber farewell and Radeon Software a warm welcome.
Let's get this out of the way, right away. If you're too excited about the new drives to proceed you may want to immediately visit the download link for the newly released AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition. Now that you've calmed down, join us in exploring all things new about Crimson, from a robust and varied feature set, to a modernized design and plenty of performance improvements to boot. If you're interested in the gaming performance aspect of the new driver, you will want to check out the in-depth performance analysis by our own Jeff Williams over here, be warned however the results may surprise you.
We had already discussed what this major development strategically means for AMD and the Radeon brand under the direct leadership of graphics veteran Raja Koduri and the Radeon Technologies Group when AMD first took the lid off its latest creation earlier this month.
Before we proceed I should point out that in this article we're going to focus on the new information that AMD has shared with us about the new Radeon Software Crimson Edition drivers. If you missed any of the previously revealed details or if you want to re-visit the information for any reason we'd recommend going back and checking out our earlier article in which we cover everything AMD had talked about in detail.
Although at the time AMD had only shared with us details about the user interface aspect of Crimson. Today, we get to dig deep into the more juicy details of Crimson. This includes gaming performance and power efficiency gains, stability improvements and a dozen or so features. So let's dig in!
AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition : Faster, Smarter, Sleeker And Packed Full Of Features
When an overhaul of AMD's Radeon graphics software was first being conceptualized there were five fundamental things that the software team wanted to accomplish. These pillars include a more seamless user experience, introducing new features and pushing on the performance and efficiency fronts; all of which built on a foundation with razor-edge focus on stability.
We'll discuss each of the five areas of focus in detail in this article and we'll kick things off with the foundation, Stability, and all the work that AMD's teams have done to improve upon and reinforce this area.
Radeon Software Crimson : Stability
AMD states that Radeon Software Crimson Edition has gone through a more meticulous quality assurance process than any other previous driver revision . This includes twice as many automated tests compared to last year's Omega drivers, 25% more manual tests, 15% more system configurations as well as - and for the first time - the addition of specific quality assurance measures for brand new technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality.
In addition to the previously mentioned internal QA measures AMD has also paid very close attention to the feedback of Radeon users. As a result a comprehensive list of the most common issues that were pointed out by the community was created and a dedicated software team was tasked with identifying these issues, reproducing them, debugging them and fixing them.
As a result more than 10 of the most requested fixes by the community have been delivered with Crimson.
Crimson Features A Built-in Bug/Issue Reporting Tool
In addition, AMD has also announced that they have built a feature into Crimson which allows any Radeon user to report any driver bug or issue they might run into by going into "Preferences -> Report an Issue". The reported issue is then forwarded to AMD's Global Customer Care Unit, an internal ticket is then subsequently created and sent to the appropriate driver team to have the issue investigated and hopefully solved. Alternatively users can report issues by following this link : www.AMD.com/report
Radeon Software Crimson : User Experience
For Radeon Software Crimson Edition AMD built an entirely new control panel from the ground-up that replaces Catalyst Control Center, this new control panel is dubbed Radeon Settings and carries several significant improvements over CCC. The most remarkable of which is the nearly instantaneous start-up time, down from over 7 seconds to less than a fraction of a second all thanks to an entirely new design built on QT rather .NET.
Radeon Settings also carries a re-designed user interface that's more intuitive, seamless and versatile than we've ever seen before. The user interface includes a new game manager, a more versatile overdrive built-in overclocking engine in addition to new video, monitor and Eyefinity management hubs. And these aren't just aesthetic overhauls, the new driver will recognize and initialize a monitor five times faster than before. Eyefinity users will also be able to connect their monitors and set them up with one click. The feature will recognize the majority of setups, including asymmetrical configurations with multiple monitors featuring varied resolutions.
If you're the sort of person that's afraid of change - and let's admit it most of us are - worry not, AMD states that comprehensive usability tests were conducted to make sure that the new user interface is as easy to use and is as intuitive as possible. And while it's not mentioned in the slides we were told that over 99% of users who have tried the new UI found everything where they expected it to be and found the UI easy to use. We personally have only had the drivers for one day to play with but this has been largely our experience as well.
Finally, there's one important addition before we move onto the most exciting aspects of Crimson Edition, namely the performance improvements & brand new features that were not shown before. AMD will be introducing a clever clean uninstall utility which will attempt to remove any previously installed AMD Catalyst display and audio drivers as well as clean up left-over AMD files and registry entries from your system.
It's important to point out that AMD still recommends using the regular method of removing the drivers via the standard windows unstallation process for the majority of cases. However in case of system file or registry corruption or for any other good reason users might have, the clean uninstall utility may come in handy.
Radeon Software Crimson : Feature Packed
Radeon Software Crimson Edition is the very first public driver from AMD with support for LiquidVR. LiquidVR represents AMD's initiative to support virtual reality applications & head-mounted-displays. It's AMD's VR focused ecosystem for Radeon which encompasses a number of features to improve the performance and immersion in virtual reality. These include Asynchronous Shaders - which we've covered in great detail on numerous occasions - , Affinity Multi-GPU, latest Data Latch and Direct To Display.
Async Shaders for smooth head-tracking enabling Hardware-Accelerated Time Warp, a technology that uses updated information on a user’s head position after a frame has been rendered and then warps the image to reflect the new viewpoint just before sending it to a VR headset, effectively minimizing latency between when a user turns their head and what appears on screen.
Affinity Multi-GPU for scalable rendering, a technology that allows multiple GPUs to work together to improve frame rates in VR applications by allowing them to assign work to run on specific GPUs. Each GPU renders the viewpoint from one eye, and then composites the outputs into a single stereo 3D image. With this technology, multi-GPU configurations become ideal for high performance VR rendering, delivering high frame rates for a smoother experience.
Latest data latch for smooth head-tracking, a programming mechanism that helps get head tracking data from the head-mounted display to the GPU as quickly as possible by binding data as close to real-time as possible, practically eliminating any API overhead and removing latency.
Direct-to-display for intuitively attaching VR headsets, to deliver a seamless plug-and-play virtual reality experience from an AMD Radeon™ graphics card to a connected VR headset, while enabling features such as booting directly to the display or using extended display features within Windows.
FreeSync Low Framerate Compensation - LFC
One of the most exciting new features that's debuting with Crimson is FreeSync Low Framerate Compensation or LFC for short. Before we discuss what LFC does and why it's a huge deal for FreeSync let's take a step back to explain what FreeSync is.
Project FreeSync is an AMD initiative which initially kicked off back in 2013 with the vision to bring variable refresh rate monitors to market through industry standards and by working with established ASIC and monitor manufacturers. AMD proposed the Adaptive-Sync standard in 2014 to the VESA body and it has since been adopted and incorporated into DisplayPort1.2a. Interestingly, AMD also revealed to us that they're working on implementing FreeSync via HDMI.
There are tremendous benefits to employing a variable refresh rate for gaming applications, something which we've discussed at length on numerous occasions. Suffice to say that we're huge fans of variable refresh technologies, including FreeSync.
AMD's efforts quickly came to fruition this year as we witnessed a flood of new FreeSync monitors come to market. Despite the fact that G-Sync had arrived to market a year earlier than FreeSync, we've so far seen considerably more FreeSync monitors come out than we have seen for Nvidia's G-Sync. Partially thanks to the open standard nature of FreeSync and partially thanks to the significant cost advantage associated with the technology for both manufacturers and end-users.
Back in May of this year we took an in-depth look at variable refresh technologies and why they were such an important developmental breakthrough for PC gaming. We analyzed and compared both technologies from AMD and Nvidia & gave our take on the pros and cons of each.
When we looked at how the two technologies - namely FreeSync & G-Sync behaved - we found identical behaviors at large with one notable exception and that is what happens below the variable refresh rate window, LFC plays a crucial role here.
If we have two identical monitors with identical minimum and maximum refresh rates, let's say 30-144Hz, with the only difference being that one features G-Sync and the other features FreeSync. G-Sync & FreeSync would behave differently when the game's framerate dips below the minimum threshold which is 30 frames per second. The FreeSync monitor would revert back to being a fixed refresh rate monitor running at 144Hz. With G-Sync on the other hand the variable refresh rate functionality extends below the minimum refresh rate & this is achieved through frame duplication.
Here's an example. If the framerate dips down to 25 frames per second (which means that it would last for 40ms on the screen) a 30-144Hz monitor simply can't go down to 25Hz to match the framerate due to issues associated with brightness and pixel longevity. So instead G-Sync would display the same frame twice at a rate of 50Hz/50 FPS ( each frame lasting for 20ms for a combined total for both frames of 40ms ). This circumvents the limitations imposed by the minimum refresh rate of the monitor by allowing the same frame to be displayed on the screen twice really quickly, instead of once quite slowly. This applies for all framerates below the minimum refresh rate. So if for example the framerate dips down to 12.5 FPS, the frame in this instance would be displayed four times ( 20ms + 20ms + 20ms + 20ms )
This provides an experience that’s identical to a panel that’s capable of going down to 25Hz. The only downside to this technique is that it can cause a perceptible change in brightness on some panels i.e. flickering. So it’s certainly not a perfect solution but it’s still a viable and considerably better alternative to simply reverting back to a fixed refresh rate which would introduce considerable latency.
Low Framerate Compensation introduces this clever functionality to FreeSync, effectively extending FreeSync functionality below the minimum refresh rate. It's worthy of note that while AMD did not expressly divulge its "secret sauce" so to say of how exactly LFC works due to competitive reasons, we were still given sufficient hints to indicate that it follows a similar frame duplication technique to what we've seen with G-Sync.
This feature is compatible with any FreeSync monitor featuring a maximum refresh rate that's 2.5X greater than its minimum. So it will be available on all 144Hz FreeSync monitors and the Asus MG278Q which operates at 35-90Hz with FreeSync enabled.
Frame Pacing 3.0 - Now Includes DX9 Games
With the Crimson Edition drivers AMD is also debuting Frame Pacing 3.0 which builds on AMD's established framerate smoothing technology for single & multi - Crossfire - GPU configurations. This latest iteration extends the functionality of the feature to DX9 games, which was previously limited to DX10 and DX11 games.
Custom Resolutions, Refresh Rates, Timings & Pixel Clocks
With Radeon Software Crimson Edition AMD is introducing a brand new set of customization options for displays. Including setting custom resolutions, refresh rates, timings and even pixel clocks. Giving Radeon users the flexibility to fully customize and tune the experience they want to get out of their displays. You want to trade resolution for a higher refresh rate and a more responsive experience? you can choose to do that. Although user discretion is obviously still advised, with great power comes great responsibility and if you choose to use this feature to overdrive your monitor you should be mindful of the risks.
AMD is extending VSR functionality to allow users to expand their desktop real-estate, essentially giving Windows 10 users on 1920x1080 monitors the equivalent real-estate of a 2560x1440 display. This new feature requires a display with a DPI of 150 or higher and Windows 10.
Enhanced Video Playback
AMD is introducing three video enhancement updates with Crimson. The updates include enhanced sharpness, directional scaling - Anti Aliasing for videos essentially - and finally adaptive Dynamic Contrast. It's far easier to show what these new features do rather than talk about it. So we'd invite our readers to take a look at the three slides below for a better idea of what each of these features does.
Performance - Faster, Smoother Gameplay And Quicker Game/Map Load Times.
Finally we come to the crowning jewel of Crimson, the performance. AMD has introduced considerable improvements in several areas here including significant gains in traditional gaming performance, snappier game and map load times in addition to remarkably faster start-up times for the driver itself, something we had mentioned at the beginning of the article.
In terms of traditional gaming performance Radeon Software Crimson Edition delivers some broad and some game specific performance gains. The former is achieved through more efficient driver management and the latter through game specific optimizations for DirectX12 and DirectX11 games which include Fable Legends, Ashes of The Singularity, Call of Duty : Black Ops 3, Rainbow Six Siege, Star Wars Battlefront Beta, Fallout 4 and a number of other games.
AMD is promising performance gains of up to 20%, AMD makes reference to Fable Legends for this particular number. However in our own independent testing we found several cases where performance gains reached or exceeded 20%. In one particular case the performance improvement going from Catalyst 15.11 Beta to Crimson exceeded 48%.
We've tested over a dozen different titles and to call the results intriguing is an understatement. You can check out our in-depth performance analysis of Radeon Software Crimson Edition here.
Shader Cache - Smoother Gameplay And Faster Load Times
We've mentioned faster game load times earlier, which have rarely traditionally been part of the focus for graphics drivers, but with Radeon Crimson Edition they are. Shader Cache is a brand new feature that's debuting with Crimson. Thanks to the re-architected drivers, shaders can now be compiled and sorted into a cache on your SSD or hard drive, in both cases enabling significantly faster load times. The feature is especially of benefit in open world games like the Battlefield series, Fallout 4 or The Witcher 3 where load times are generally speaking lengthier than in other linear games.
The Shader Cache features stores compiled shaders which makes their retrieval significantly faster and eliminates the need for on-the-fly compiling which results in smoother gameplay in addition to snappier load times. The feature will be enabled by default for some games, however users will be able to enable it across all games via the game manager in Radeon Settings.
Reduced Mouse & Keyboard Latency
In addition to Shader Cache AMD has also introduced additional optimizations focused on giving Radeon users a better gaming experience one of which is a newly optimized flip queue size. Which allows your system to always capture the latest positional information from your mouse and the latest input from your keyboard, significantly reducing input latency.
Crimson pushes on efficiency in several ways. It does so by introducing several improvements to the established Frame Rate Target Control feature as well as reducing GPU power consumption during video playback through smarter voltage & boost behaviors and refinements.
FRTC now supports a range from 30 to 200 frames per second. After a framerate target is set, the GPU will not exceed it and thus any energy that's required to generate any additional frames over the set target will be saved resulting in significant power savings and lower operating temperatures.
Broader Software Reach
In addition to all the features and improvements we've discussed so far, AMD has also announced several other important software updates. Including support for new OpenCL 2.0 features and an update to AMD's CodeXL library.
Finally we come to the very last tid-bit of info that was revealed by AMD which is that there will be even more to come. The arrival of Radeon Software Crimson Edition is only one step of many for AMD's re-invigorated software initiative. The company stated that it's expanding its reach to developers across the globe, encompassing game development teams and a myriad of software developers.
The release of Radeon Software Crimson Edition delivers on the promise of catering to the Radeon end-user, with the new focus on developers to be discussed in detail in the not too distant future.
There you have it folks, AMD's most significant driver in recent memory. The very first Radeon Software release suitably titled, Crimson Edition. In case you feel overwhelmed by the wealth of new information revealed today you can refer to these two handy slides which eloquently summarize what AMD is delivering with Crimson.
And as such we come full circle, back to the foundation and the four pillars that we had discussed earlier. The user experience, features --lots & lots of features-- , performance, power efficiency and finally stability. In a nutshell then, Radeon Software Crimson Edition is indeed faster, smarter, sleeker and packed full of features and to say that we're impressed with what AMD has done with Crimson would be an understatement, at least in the amount of time that we've managed to spend tinkering and playing around with the new driver. The all new Radeon Software is nothing short of remarkable, and if you're on the red team we can't think of any reason why you shouldn't install the new software package and enjoy all the benefits that it offers.