AMD Radeon Gets A Boost With The New Adrenalin 2020 GPU Drivers

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅10.12.2019 15:52:56



AMD have had a busy 2019 in hardware and software, GPUs and CPUs, and today it’s all coming to a resounding finale with their annual update to the core GPU driver package. Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 Edition is the continuation of a regular release cycle that has seen incremental performance improvements to the driver punctuated by a major winter update that adds new features and in some instances major overhaul of the base code. To a very great extent it will set the tone for the next year of AMD GPU drivers; so, no pressure then.



This time around the Radeon Software revision has to take the additional step of incorporating feature updates made in the middle of the year, coinciding with the launch of the Radeon RX 5000-series GPUs to consumer and OEM markets. While that could add an additional wrinkle, it also provides additional bases for extending support down their range to legacy products and making this update have more of a significant impact on actual users of AMD graphics hardware both old and new than it might otherwise have.



Features and improvements are based on end-user feedback and projects internally driven by the Radeon team, often precipitated by independent observation of burgeoning trends. This feeds into generally high levels of user satisfaction enjoyed by the RSAE project as a whole, but the fickle nature of public opinion means they can never rest on their laurels.

The past year saw an expansion of a collaboration with Microsoft that aimed to improve driver quality, and Microsoft themselves viewed RSAE 2019 as the best GPU driver ever from AMD. Building on this quality is important, not only to iron out issues always present when deploying new software in a diverse ecosystem, but also ensure that the good work of previous years isn’t undermined.



Promoting Ease of Use - One-Click Installer & More

A focus of annual updates to AMD’s GPU driver package has always been improving the user experience, primarily through making the user interface more intuitive and require less steps to navigate to their most relevant feature. It’s natural to tune that aspect towards enthusiasts - those who will be delving into the driver software on a regular basis - but it’s also important to embrace novice users and help them get over the hurdle presented by adopting new hardware.

A strengthening portfolio of AMD products means that more people than ever will be running their driver packages for the first time, and many will have little desire to jump back into the software from that point forward. Recognising this, AMD is revising the installation process to equip these users with the most important pre-sets for their use profile.

One-Click Installer - A streamlined installation process that requires very little input from the user, and is significantly faster than the 2019 version. This installer also has the option of applying a clean factory reset of all associated AMD GPU driver configurations. While it won’t necessarily be as all-encompassing as a DDU sweep, it should be more sensible than a simple install over much older drivers.

AMD Profile Presets - When first run the app will prompt users to select performance and feature presets that fit their use case. ‘Gaming’ might enable FreeSync, Radeon Image Sharpening and a few performance tweaks for instance, whereas the ‘Esports’ profile will toggle on Radeon Anti Lag for an expectation tuned to competition. ‘Standard’ effectively sidesteps the process, offering a clean slate for reviewers, benchmarkers and obsessive settings tweakers.

Improved Update Process - Now easier to keep the driver up to date.




AMD want users to be as comfortable with their driver as possible, and to make it a more central aspect of day-to-day gaming they’re also introducing functionality to launch games from the UI. No longer will the driver be consigned to a dark corner of the Windows toolbar, only opened when all other troubleshooting avenues have been exhausted. At least, that’s the hope.

New Features - the Core of AMD’s Annual Driver Updates

Radeon Boost

If you’ve been gaming for any length of time you’ll be aware that when you quickly change your in-game viewpoint, particularly in 1st and 3rd person titles, frame rates tend to drop significantly. It turns out that’s doubly frustrating:

1. Frame hitching is often clear as individual frame times fall off a cliff,

2. The worse the frame rate, the harder it is to make out on-screen details when the view is changing quickly.


The second of these points was readily apparent during the development of Variable Refresh Rate graphics technologies for gaming (FreeSync etc.). Suddenly researchers could observe how human perception of fine image detail changed with both frame rate and line-of-sight movement rates. Maintaining computationally expensive high quality textures was counterproductive if frame rates dipped, even in a VRR and not only 60fps V-SYNC environment.



Radeon Boost is a novel approach at alleviating the frame rate drops caused during fast user-controlled camera movement in game. When the driver detects this movement it will drop the rendering resolution down a specified minimum (50-87%), helping to maintain high frame rates during crucial periods, before returning to normal. Furthermore, due to the relationship between frame rate and how we perceive detail, little to no perceptible difference in quality can be seen during this short period if utilising FreeSync.

Radeon Boost is directly tied to camera movement, and so doesn’t trigger in canned benchmarks such as 3DMark Firestrike or those shipped as an in-game tool. We infer from the materials presented that the texture quality algorithm is tied to mouse movement directly, possibly captured after it is parsed by the game engine, and are currently awaiting clarification and more detailed information on precisely how it works.

It’s important to note that Radeon Boost isn’t what’s typically referred to as a ‘Variable Rate Shading’ technology. Shader resource allocation isn’t changed across the frame by it (unlike, for instance, the VRS implementation utilised in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus), and it doesn’t indicate compatibility with VRS in this AMD driver or hardware generation.

The technology is currently compatible with only a handful of titles, and with GPUs as recent as the RX 400 series (Polaris). The claimed performance benefits are significant however, made even more impactful because gains are made during events which drop frames the most rather than topping-up already high frame rate periods. It will be exciting to see if Radeon Boost can be adapted to other control mechanisms, particularly Virtual Reality HMDs, and whether the AMD-powered next-generation consoles leverage it.



Integer Display Scaling

The thirst for retro gaming amongst gamers of a certain again hasn’t diminished in 2019, and so it’s no surprise that Integer Display Scaling is one of the features most requested by AMD GPU owners. Rather than utilise an averaging algorithm to scale low-resolution games to the native resolution of the monitor (or window), each pixel is instead mapped as a square of four (or more). The result is a more faithful reproduction of the original image, particularly for older games with a pixel-art style, that’s very appropriate for screens with a high pixel density.

AMD’s implementation of Integer Display Scaling has no performance impact and is applied as a driver toggle. Compatibility is exceptionally broad: all GCN GPUs going back as far as the HD 7000-series support it in Windows 10 environments.

Radeon Overlay Integrated Browser

While many games emphasise immersion, some almost encourage the use of third party tools and online references for optimal play. MMOs and RPGs, with often labyrinthine puzzles to solve or procedures needed to succeed in an encounter, are terrors for this, leading many to obsessively alt-tab to a web browser to get the information they need. For this and potentially other reasons we’ve not thought of, AMD are implementing a basic web-browser into Radeon Overlay.



The browser is based on Chromium using the Qt package updates, and is very much a bare bones affair. Updates are made frequently - at least as often as every new RSAE driver update - and should likely be used sparingly until its proven to be a robust implementation. But as a feature, it’s a neat one that’s in tune with how a subset of gamers actually play their favourite games rather than a romanticised approach to solving the problem.

General Improvements

DirectML Support:- RSAE now supports Microsoft’s DirectML API to leverage GPU resources for machine learning tools such as media filters and denoising algorithms. These are not real-time tools, but could enhance productivity as adoption widens.

Radeon Anti-Lag:- Now supports DX9 games on pre-Navi hardware with a global activation toggle.

Radeon Image Sharpening:- Control over sharpness and an in-game toggle has been added in the latest driver. It’s also supported in a wider selection of games, now including DirectX11 titles, and by Radeon Raven Ridge and newer APUs as well as discrete graphics cards.

WATTMAN:- Now simply the Tuning Tab. The process of tuning your GPU is greatly simplified, with augmented settings for advanced users. In-game performance can be tracked and logged through the utility in addition to the display of real-time stats via the Radeon Overlay.

Adaptive Home Screen:- The home screen layout will change depending on whether the user is in-game or on the desktop, emphasising in-game metrics where appropriate.

Media & Capture:- More intuitive tab layout for capture and access to user-created media including streams and game highlights.




A Continued Commitment

So that’s a very broad overview of AMD’s Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition GPU driver update for the start of 2020. The 2020 update isn’t perhaps the most significant of the annual releases since Omega, but that’s in part due to the mid-stream update precipitated by Navi’s launch in the middle of the year. Despite that, there’s plenty to get stuck into whether you’re a pure gamer, benchmarker or content creator. Radeon Boost should get plenty of attention, and is one of those cute little features that could have a deceptively large impact on the competitive landscape; hopefully reviewers remember to keep it disabled when benchmarking or it could really through the cat amongst the pigeons.

Modern hardware drivers are never ‘done’ in any sense of the word, they’re continually iterated upon to improve support and broaden the feature set. Sometimes the developers get it wrong, hopefully more often than not their spot-on with their improvements, but adapting to the evolving software landscape of Windows (and Linux) PCs is a tricky proposition.

AMD’s Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition drivers haven’t always gotten it right, but none can credibly make the claim that these consumer drivers are created without care. The features are smart and make great use of the developer resources AMD have available, eschewing huge and time-intensive technological marvels (with marginal user value) for coherent changes that make the lives of users just a little bit simpler. The fact that the competition has played catch-up so often this year is testament to how effective that approach can be, even with incremental update processes.


You can download the Radeon Software Adrenaline 2020 Edition drivers today from amd.com/support. For the best experience you'll need to pair it with an AMD Radeon 500-series or better GPU and Windows 10.

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