AMD 12.11 "Never Settle" Driver Performance

Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 21, 2012
Product Name: Catalyst 12.11 Driver
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As you read this conclusion, be certain there’s someone at NVIDIA’s headquarters pressing a red panic button. Where AMD was once trailing, they are now leading in several performance disciplines and are doing so with lower prices as well. This situation isn’t only due a driver team's ability to increase the HD 7000-series’ overall performance. NVIDIA’s suddenly unenviable position largely stems from a combination of AMD’s earlier price cuts, the newly realized framerate increases and a very aggressive promotion bundle that can include over $100 of free games. For anyone that hasn’t taken the plunge into this generation of graphics cards, AMD’s offerings are once again extremely enticing.

The 12.11 drivers represent a new beginning for the HD 7970 GHz Edition and while we haven’t tested the rest of AMD’s lineup, we’re sure the situation above will repeat itself throughout their product stack. This is not a selective performance bump in a few AMD-friendly titles either. Rather, the 12.11s offer an across-the-board performance increase that pushes the HD 7970 GHz Edition right past the GTX 680. From a price / performance standpoint, there are actually very few reasons to recommend the GTX 680 at this point and at higher detail settings there’s just no competition. Compare this to when the GHz Edition was first released and you will see a constant stream of driver performance improvements from AMD, which bodes well for the future too. We’ve also been told that some of the DX9 improvements you’ve seen should be carried over into previous architectures supported under the 12.11 umbrella.

We reviewers are usually chart mongers but let’s look beyond the traditional graphs and talk about real-life experiences. In most cases, the benefits from these new drivers won’t be noticeable, regardless of how the improvements look on paper. But don’t let this fact cheapen what’s been done here; any performance increase is praiseworthy, especially when it doesn’t come at the expense of image quality. Plus, there are some games like Battlefield 3 and Wargame where merely installing the 12.11 drivers makes a world of difference.

These drivers and the inclusion of multiple free games with their graphics cards may be a game changer for AMD but it isn’t quite time for NVIDIA to start circling the wagons. However, they now have an uphill battle against less expensive products we all thought were beaten clean months ago. To head AMD off before the lucrative Christmas shopping season, the 600-series needs price drops and a continuation of the Borderlands 2 and Assassin's Creed bundles to remain competitive. And don’t think for a moment that NVIDIA’s driver team is sitting idle, especially now.

The 12.11 “Never Settle” drivers prove that either AMD is pouring some serious money into driver development or someone on their dev team had a “eureka!” moment. We have a feeling it was a combination of these two but the end result is the same: AMD is back in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, drivers can’t placate the HD 7970 GHz Edition’s ravenous craving for power, nor can it quiet down the reference heatsink’s banshee-like screaming. Luckily most gamers don’t give a damn about power consumption and the large selection of custom cooled versions will surely placate any concerns about noise.

Pushing the GCN architecture’s performance up a few notches is bound to be a popular move but it is also representative of an important underlying philosophy: AMD will continue to support their products through robust driver optimizations and their Gaming Evolved program. And that’s a commitment everyone should be happy about.

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