AMD’s New Radeon Software: Crimson
Regardless of how well designed a given graphics architecture is, it essentially lives and dies by the quality of its drivers and associated software stack. Time and again we have seen promising graphics cards hobbled by bewildering performance bugs, unintuitive software interfaces or a complete lack of key updates. No small amount of that critique has been leveled at AMD in the past but with their new Radeon Software initiative, the newly formed Radeon Technologies Group is aiming to change the equation.
At its heart the Radeon Software is a multi-pronged plan to not only improve user experience but also boost stability and modernize the UI of what was once the Catalyst Control Center. For the better part of 13 years now, CCC and its predecessor Radeon Properties have been the one-stop-shop for anyone using an AMD GPU or APU. In its latest iteration the design was streamlined and more functionality was added but there were still critiques of slow loading times, installation issues and numerous other hiccups. Now with Radeon Software AMD is taking a more holistic approach with a ground-up redesign that has been a long time in the making.
One thing that should be mentioned as well is that Radeon Software won’t be incorporating any of the features from the Gaming Evolved App. So video capture, automatic game setting optimizations and social broadcasting will remain within the clutches of Raptr for the time being.
Radeon Software represents a major step forward for AMD’s ubiquitous software stack on a number of fronts but its approach and naming convention is also quite unique. First and foremost, AMD is moving forward with a plan which sees them releasing only one major driver / software revision per year. Meanwhile there are plans to roll out quarterly minor updates and even smaller bug fixes based on an as-needed basis. This doesn’t change their current rollout schedule which has felt a bit haphazard as of late but that should improve.
Moving forward, the driver and software stack will use a brand new nomenclature as well. Gone is the Catalyst name as it is being replaced with “Radeon Software” in an effort to better convey this as being a broader software solution than just a driver and its associated controller program. Meanwhile the Crimson Edition name designates the major early version and will change to other synonyms of red for upcoming releases. Finally, minor updates will be posted with their associated year and month. To put this all into context the current release will be called Radeon Software Crimson Edition 15.11 which translates to the 2015 / 2016 software stack that incorporates the latest November 2015 optimizations.
AMD has promised an official launch of Crimson software sometime before year’s end so that gives the Radeon Technology Group a little while to get things ironed out. It will eventually be compatible with APUs as well. As far as actual ground-breaking performance increases, you can’t expect that to happen this time around. The in-game benefits of these newer drivers are said to be minimal and mostly focused on debilitating bugs found in Crossfire profiles and some newer games. Essentially, the Crimson launch is primarily focused upon rolling out the new interface and enhanced functionality.
While AMD was quite sparse with the details about the new Radeon Settings, it is obvious a great deal of effort has been put into providing great software to enhance the overall hardware experience. From a back-end perspective that means a move away from the now-antiquated .NET framework towards programming the interface using the Qt language. Not only should this reduce errors but the installation process will be easier and less likely to encounter show-stopping problems.
Radeon Settings has also benefited from a significantly reduced system resource footprint which enhances responsiveness and ultimately cuts down startup times from Catalyst’s approximately eight seconds (on a typical system) to under a second. Whether or not AMD will finally include a proper uninstall routine wasn’t discussed but we seriously hope it does since little gremlins from previous versions where certainly a contributing factor for past woes.
From a top-down perspective the new user interface is supposed to be instinctive and intuitive while not being overly complicated for first-time users. The main landing page has five main tabs across its top band that work contextually to bring up section’s respective options. There’s also a lower-slung area that advises users when there’s a new software update, allows access to the main Preferences area and includes links to various social media channels.
Perhaps the area which will be welcomed by most gamers will be the new Game Manager. Within it, Radeon Settings automatically detects which games are installed (or titles can be manually added) and allows you to access per-title image quality and performance modifications. These are all manually done or they can be left at their default values. If you are someone who wants optimal settings chosen for you based upon system specifications, you will still need to installed the aforementioned Gaming Evolved Application.
This goes well beyond the Global Settings previous versions of AMD’s software included and, perhaps more importantly, it looks clean and exceedingly well managed when compared to the current CCC settings. According to AMD the interface will be extremely fluid without any perceptible delays between menu transitions, the time it takes settings to be applied and diving even deeper into the interface.
Within the Profile Graphics area there are options like Framerate Target control, forced anti aliasing and V-SYNC which can be set individually for every title. However, arguably the most interesting addition here is the ability to set AMD’s Overdrive overclock control base on the game rather than applying it in a widespread “one size fits all” manner. Imagine setting it to lower Power and Speed levels for a game that already plays at ultra high framerates while allowing Radeon Settings to automatically apply your profile when a more demanding title is loaded. This is what AMD hopes to offer and if they pull it off, this could really bring a new level of fine-grain control to those who wish to use it.
The rest of AMD’s Radeon Settings application is relatively straightforward since most of your time will likely be spent in the key gaming sections. With that being said, the Video, Display and Eyefinity sections each have their benefits as well, though many of the settings contained within are already part of the Catalyst Control Center.
The Video area contains a number of presets which focus mainly upon modifying image settings for optimal viewing of predefined content. Naturally, there’s a Custom area with plenty of additional options for those who wish to fine-tune their experience.
Display is pretty much self-explanatory and contains key elements like a FreeSync toggle, options for AMD’s Virtual Super Resolution and of course GPU scaling settings. As with all of the areas, there’s an Advanced Settings area where people who want finer-grain control over their display can tinker to their heart’s content.
Finally the Eyefinity section engages multi monitor display groups and now includes an automatic setting that, supposedly, does a great job at bezel compensation with a minimal amount of user interaction.
From what we have seen so far, AMD seems to have succeeded in blending a sleek, graphical user interface with the advanced options their users expect. This update was a long time in coming and hopefully it heralds a time when gamers will be able to focus less upon driver issues and get back to the basics of enjoying their games. Since we have yet to actually experience any of this first-hand and all we have is AMD’s claims, it is extremely hard to be subjective. However, the expectations are high. Expect a full in-depth overview when the Radeon Software Crimson makes its way into the press’ hands.
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