AMD 13.8 Frame Pacing Driver Tested & Benchmarked

Author: SKYMTL
Date: July 31, 2013
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Earlier this year, AMD launched their eagerly anticipated HD 7990. Boasting a pair of Tahiti XT cores and 6GB of memory, it had the potential to unseat NVIDIA’s GTX 690 as the king of the graphics card world. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead of powering itself to an enviable position, the HD 7990 was saddled with stuttering frame delivery which not only ruined its in-game experience but also stabbed performance through the heart. A fix was needed, and fast.

The stuttering which is painfully evident on all of AMD’s dual card solutions is a byproduct of inter-chip communications which strive to deliver frames at exactly the pace a game engine asks for them. Basically, it wants them as quickly as possible regardless of the consequences. Without going into the gory details, let’s just say this overly rapid frame delivery wreaks havoc on in-game fluidity and image quality as some frames are dropped, some take longer to render and others are only partially rendered. There’s just no rhyme or reason unless an outside factor steps in to smooth things out. The only way around this was to either enable triple buffering (which only worked in some applications) or apply V-Sync which causes its own set of limitations.

While NVIDIA has been actively addressing these frame pacing issues for years now, AMD is only getting around to fixing them now. Luckily for the folks on AMD’s engineering teams, the stuttering wasn’t an issue with their underlying architecture. Rather, the culprit was software-based, rooted deeply within the driver stack. They’ve been promising a solution to stuttering for months and months but nothing really happened. We saw glimpses of what a so-called “frame pacing” driver would look like but an actual public release proved to be elusive…until now that is.

With the 13.8 beta driver AMD is instituting what they call Frame Pacing. This technology performs an on-the-fly, frame by frame analysis so instead of rendering based on a game engine’s requests, tries to smooth things out and deliver consistency. Contrary to popular belief, this won’t negatively impact raw framerates since AMD is simply endeavoring to eliminate dropped, partially rendered and high latency frames. If this is accomplished, the number of frames that actually make their way onto the screen should, in theory, increase.

Frame Pacing is automatically installed with the 13.8 driver suite (available today on AMD’s driver download portal) but, in the event of issues AMD allows it to be turned on and off. In our experience, the system will need a reboot to ensure a setting change is actually implemented but otherwise, the toggle worked perfectly. According to AMD there aren’t any side effects either and they claim that input lag hasn’t been affected.

Compatibility isn’t an issue either since the new driver won’t be restricted to just the GCN architecture. Users of older cards like the HD 6000-series will get some Frame Pacing lovin’ too.

As with all good things in life, AMD’s Frame Pacing does have some limitations. It will only be implemented on DX10 and DX11 applications and multi monitor support isn’t being rolled out yet. That will be cold comfort for the thousands of Radeon users still making their way through The Witcher 2 or the many other stutter-filled yet popular DX9 titles. Eyefinity and 4K users will also be left without support for the time being but luckily, AMD isn't trying to sweep this under the rug.

So how does AMD’s new Frame Pacing perform? With a HD 7990 in hand we wanted to find out.

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