AMD 12.11 "Never Settle" Driver Performance

Author: SKYMTL
Date: October 21, 2012
Product Name: Catalyst 12.11 Driver
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There’s an unwritten law in the gaming world that says a graphics card is only as good as its drivers. We’ve seen potentially great GPU architectures cut off at the knees due to lackluster driver support in the latest games. Other products tend to shine from day one with quick updates whenever new titles are released. So while engineers can control how their creation ultimately processes game information, it is a company’s software team that keeps a GPU lineup competitive throughout its lifetime.

This brings us to the reasoning behind today’s article. AMD’s new 12.11 “Never Settle” drivers are supposed to breathe new life into their HD 7000-series parts by increasing performance by some significant levels. That seems like a tall order to fulfill for an architecture that's already been around for almost 10 months but AMD’s driver team has pulled off surprises in the past. These new drivers should be available as you read this so if you have an AMD card, get on moving to the driver download page.

In addition to the release of new performance-enhancing drivers, AMD is also introducing a new game promo today. By including up to three free games (Hitman: Absolution, Sleeping Dogs and Far Cry 3) and a coupon for 20% off Medal of Honor: Warfighter with the purchase of new HD 7000-series cards, a potent one-two punch is being thrown against the competition.

Typically new drivers –even the ones with “performance” monikers- focus solely on a few select titles but this time around AMD is going a different route. 12.11 brings a nearly across-the-board framerate increase due to architectural optimizations within the driver stack rather than title-specific enhancements. This has primarily been achieved through the use of better memory management, meaning AMD’s GCN cores are now able to use memory bandwidth more efficiently. Additional in-game benefits were derived through some game engine optimizations but the lion’s share of this driver’s boost comes from good, old fashioned hard work on the driver team’s part.

Optimizations for certain game engines tend to rub off on other titles which use the same technology and DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine is a great example of this. With Medal of Honor: Warfighter being a Gaming Evolved title, AMD has been hard at work with the developers optimizing its engine for the HD 7000-series. Naturally, this has benefited Battlefield 3 in a big way so expect to see framerate jumps of between 15 to 20 percent depending on the card being used.

AMD has assured us that every optimization they’ve found hasn’t come at the expense of image quality and we have to agree. After using this driver extensively for the better part of a week, we haven’t been able to find a single instance where visual fidelity may have suffered. 12.11 is simply allowing an architecture that’s been on the market since January another chance to shine again.

Drivers make the graphics card work go ‘round and AMD is hoping the new 12.11s will improve their lineup’s position against NVIDIA’s strong competition. Considering the HD 7000-series has gone through its fair share of price cuts since the GTX 600-series was released, this move could have a significant impact upon the graphics card market right before the critical holiday season.

Before we go on to the actual benchmarks, let's lay out the ground rules. All of the tests are conducted as we normally would for any graphics card review with one small exception: two different AMD drivers (12.7 and 12.11) will be used. NVIDIA meanwhile benefits from their newest 306.97 driver which was released a few weeks ago. Due to the timing involved with this article, we were only able to test the HD 7970 GHz, a GTX 680 and a GTX 670. Additional testing will be done over the next few weeks in order to give a fuller perspective of how the 12.11 stack affects AMD's product positioning.

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