Out With The Old, In With The Crimson – AMD Retires Catalyst Control Centre
Since 2002 AMD’s Catalyst Control Centre has been the backbone of their driver and hardware software package. The last thirteen years has seen the purchase of ATI by AMD, introduction and replacement of multiple hardware architectures, and new APIs including Mantle and Liquid VR; all the while CCC has been the mainstay of how users interface with AMD’s graphics hardware. Before the end of the year however CCC will be a relic of the past as AMD moves to a new phase in their software design for consumers and professionals.
Last month the Radeon Technology Group was founded with a remit to focus on graphics for gaming, professional graphics and new VR/AR implementations. Given the way new technologies integrate into software at the OS level it's unsurprising that a similar focus would need to be placed on software, making it more streamlined and user-friendly rather than a labyrinthine tool which can be impossible for novices to navigate. This focus has birthed a new software package which AMD are calling Radeon Software Crimson.
More than a simple rebranding exercise, Radeon Software Crimson is billed as a substantially new toolkit for all users. The user-facing portion is an all-new UI now known as Radeon Settings, the equivalent of CCC main control and settings panel, but built on new software architecture and with a heavily revised interface. It's the first major change to this aspect of AMD's software in a few years, and perhaps the most substantial change since CCC's inception in 2002.
Radeon Settings is a far cry from the previous Catalyst settings panel. It features a modern UI with vastly more intuitive layout that doesn't skimp on information density, but presents it in a much more approachable manner. Critical tools are organised into just five major groups - GAMING, VIDEO, DISPLAY, EYEFINITY and SYSTEM - whilst less important options are relegated to three discrete minor tabs - Updates, Preferences and Notifications. As a result getting to the particular configuration option you need should only be a matter of a few obvious clicks, rather than a few dozen confusing ones.
In addition to making Radeon Settings a user-friendly tool it was also important to improve overall performance, and for now at least AMD are highlighting a massive reduction in start-up time. One of the reoccurring criticisms of CCC, AMD claim that the Crimson Edition of the Radeon Software starts up in 0.8 secs compared with ~8sec for CCC; however the development team will need to stay on their toes to ensure that it doesn’t balloon as the software inevitably becomes more complex.
At this stage no additional information has been revealed about other potential performance improvements including a reduction to memory footprint, nor if the underlying driver has changed substantially from the Omega drivers released last year. The AMD driver is widely perceived to be more CPU intensive than the competition’s equivalent, which is one of the reasons why AMD in particular have promoted DirectX 12 and their own Mantle API.
As mentioned, Radeon Settings divides the hardware/software configuration settings into five sub-groups, which it's well worth briefly going through.
From the main (i.e. Home) window Game Manager is the first (and one might say primary) tab/group. Within this section of Radeon Settings you're offered per-game profile control of the majority of in-game settings which can be configured outside of the game (some graphics options will always be locked within the game unfortunately). Some of those on offer are options we're quite familiar with such as Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic Filtering, whilst other are relatively new. Frame Rate Target Control and Shader Caching for example certainly satisfy the latter label.
Through the Game Manager you can also configure per-profile (i.e. per game) Overdrive overclocking settings, allowing you to easily set up bespoke overclocking settings for each game you play. Alternatively you can configure overclocks though Global tabs. It's also worth noting that not all settings can be user-controlled, and some (such as Virtual Super Resolution and FreeSync functionality) cannot be controlled on a per-profile basis. It seems likely that AMD will add these options on a case-by-case basis based on user feedback once Radeon Software Crimson reaches public hands.
Games will typically be auto-detected upon installation, but can also be found manually. Naturally games can also be launched through the Radeon Settings UI if desired, although that's by no means mandatory.
Compared with the Game Manager section, Video is a much more sparse tab. Here you can control video presets, which impacts how video content is rendered on-screen. Included among the presets are factors such as colour modes, sharpness, and AMD-specific technologies Steady Video and Fluid Motion Video.
The DISPLAY tab is the next port of call in the Radeon Settings UI. In theory you’ll be visiting this tab fairly infrequently, but it will be important if you make extensive use of Virtual Super Resolution. Anyone with a FreeSync monitor will also find the enable toggle here, and it’s likely that addition FreeSync settings will appear here as an when they become applicable. HTPC users should also note the GPU Scaling option for overscan/underscan on HDTVs.
We believe that ‘Additional Settings’ refers to general Windows settings, controllable through the new UI.
One slight disappointment is that it’s apparently too confusing to set up VSR and FreeSync on a per-game basis, rather than making them global or semi-global settings. Even so, this is the first release candidate of this software, so there’s plenty of space for improvement.
AMD haven’t forgotten Eyefinity, their widely-praised multi-monitor solution which allows you to stitch together monitors into one coherent display. Within Radeon Settings it gets its own default tab, where you can perform Quick Setup of a new display group and Advanced Setup for additional tweaks to groups.
It’s not clear if you can apply a particular Display Group to a game profile (if that is relevant to be honest, Eyefinity isn’t a feature I’ve used much personally), but that might be an appropriate inclusion to the Gaming tab in the future.
Finally we come to the System tab, which is a comprehensive run-down of system information including hardware config., BIOS information and graphics API versions. An Overview portion of the System Tab is the most top-level summary of hardware and software, featuring OS version, Radeon Software version and GPU model. It wouldn’t be surprising if this was your first port of call for graphics troubleshooting as it details your driver version.
The Software portion drills a little deeper in the Radeon Software details, outlining version numbers for the VGA driver, OpenGL API, Mantle API and Audio Driver. You probably shouldn't expect to visit this section all that often, but the grouping of information seems quite logical.
The final portion, ‘Hardware’, is dedicated to the AMD graphics hardware in your system. Going beyond the GPU, it also indicates the hardware vendor, active BIOS, current clock speeds and more. Another troubleshooting feature is the ability to copy this information in its entirety to paste as plain text where it’s needed.
Radeon Settings Options
The final three options are typically located at the bottom of the main Radeon Settings window, which we'll tentatively group together as 'Options' for the new software. Essentially, here you'll find various options on how Radeon Settings behaves on startup, deals with software update and other notifications, and other useful tweaks. From here you'll also be able to disable banner advertising within Radeon Settings, which is always appreciated.
So, there is a very quick overview of Radeon Software Crimson Edition as well as Radeon Settings. We'll no-doubt go into more depth closer to the new software's public release, but for now we'll close by saying that it's good to see AMD place a renewed focus on their software, and hopefully they won't sacrifice power-user functionality to the alter of user-friendliness.
For more information on AMD hardware and software visit AMD.com