Radeon Software Crimson; The Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: November 23, 2015
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Understanding Shader Cache

The Radeon Software Crimson Edition also brings with it something AMD calls Shader Cache which is a novel feature that could help drastically reduce game load time and in-game stuttering.

To understand what Shader Cache does, you first have to understand one of the culprits behind some of the major hiccups in today’s open world games. In order to offer a seamless transition from one zone to another in titles like Dragon Age, Fallout 4, Far Cry 4 and others, a game engine will temporarily store complied shaders within the graphics driver before they are discarded. This is an inherently inefficient system since those same elements will need to be re-complied, re-stored and eventually reloaded whenever that section of the game is visited again.

AMD’s Shader Cache essentially adds another layer to that cyclical compile / load / discard routine by redirecting the compiled shaders to a user’s storage subsystem, be it a hard drive or SSD. This means shaders will be ready to be called upon in their pre-compiled forms within a segmented cache file. As a result, level load times can be drastically reduced in DX10 and DX11 games (no mention was made about DX12 and DX9), especially on systems with slower storage components.

There are many other potential areas that can greatly benefit from Shader Cache. Since pre-complied shaders are stored locally in an area that generally allows for quick access, CPU overhead can be reduced and there may be substantially less in-game stutters as the system doesn’t have to fight to compile / load resources. The potential here is almost limitless, especially when it comes to eliminating those nasty stutters in certain open world games when they try to process shader elements in real-time. You can see what happens in the graph (provided by AMD) above.

Within the new Radeon Software you enable Shader Cache under the Gaming tab or it can be turned on within each game’s individual profile. Its pretty straightforward but there are a few things to remember: in order to actually cache any compiled shaders, at least one run-through of a given level is required so the effects won’t be immediate. In addition, complied shaders will take up a not-so-insignificant amount of your storage capacity (especially if a sub-1TB SSD is being used).

AMD also gives users the option to clear out their Shader Cache file by navigating to AppData\Local\AMD\DXCache. Hopefully at some point in time this function will be integrated directly into the Radeon Software suite.

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