Prepare For An Adrenalin Rush - AMD Radeon Unveil Their 2019 Driver Update

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅13.12.2018 14:11:59

Itís December and conditions are great for some PC Gaming, so itís once again time for AMD Radeonís yearly ĎBig Bangí update to their driver and software tools package. This schedule, which has been ongoing since the launch of the Catalyst Omega drivers in 2014, has over the years brought with it a slew of new tools, expansive new functionality, and complemented the frequent incremental updates that have coincided with new game releases.

Yearly updates incorporating new features into the consumer and professional driver stacks are now part of two central aspects to AMD Radeonís driver update program. The other is the succession of day-0 patch updates rolled out on or before the launch of major new Triple-A videogames, ensuring that owners of AMD hardware can enjoy the best possible experience as soon as they boot up the game. Performance and features as part of the GPU package are now expected by enthusiasts, and AMD absolutely aim to please.

Prior yearly updates have included such features as:

Variable Super Resolution: Render the game at a super-sampled resolution and then display at the monitorís native resolution, using the super-sampled frame as high-quality anti-aliasing. Released with Catalyst Omega.

TressFX 3.0: Updated hair physics API standard for more realistic in-game visuals. Released with Catalyst Omega.

Radeon Settings UI and Tool Development: A streamlined driver UI thatís inherently easier to develop for, making features that much easier to access. Released With Radeon Software Crimson Edition.

FreeSync Low Framerate Compensation: Helps mitigate the downside of variable refresh rate technologies when rendered frame rates drop below monitor minimums. Formally added with Radeon Software Crimson Edition.

Radeon ReLive: Video capture and streaming technology. A central plank of Crimson ReLive Edition drivers.

Radeon Chill: Feature which reduced power draw over time and reduce frame times by queueing fewer rendered frames. Particularly useful for mobile GPUs in laptop systems. Introduced with Crimson ReLive Edition.

Radeon Overlay: An in-game overlay that displays critical system information and offers feature toggling on the fly. Introduced as part of Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition.

AMD Link: AMDís first mobile app, AMD Link allowed in-app control of some aspects of Radeon features on your desktop system, as well as a notification and news feed. Another RSAE innovation.

All that barely scratches the surface of AMD Radeonís innovations in the past few years. Nor does it address the ~10% per year performance improvement incremental driver updates have wrought over the course of each year.

FPS - AMD Radeonís Driver Development Strategy

AMD define their core driver and software strategy in one simple acronym Ė FPS Ė that stands for Features, Performance and Stability. New features and improved performance can of course be objectively observed and measured, but stability is a little more nebulous. To assess their releases against this criteria they not only undertake numerous consumer satisfaction surveys (typically approx. 2 weeks after a driver release) but also commission independent auditing studies of their drivers that measure reliability.

In both areas AMD have been able to surpass the competition, to the extent that no-one can claim that their drivers are a weak link in their portfolio (as you might have been able to claim prior to 2014).

Alongside regular incremental updates, AMD Radeon also began Project ReSX. Reacting to the popularity of esports titles that on the face of it arenít particularly graphically intensive, the Project researches methodologies to reduce aspects such as latency and frame time which arenít captured in typical raw, average, median and 99th percentile FPS tests. Where possible these are then rolled into the driver, making competitive gaming more about player skill than the game engine or rendering hardware.

So that brings you broadly up to date with AMD Radeonís drivers. Time to move on to todayís release: AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 2019.

An Adrenalin Rush

With over 100 million direct driver downloads, and likely many more through Windows Update and other distribution systems, Radeon Software is now in the hands of a huge section of the PC gaming population. Thatís a pretty diverse group; within even the most coarse categorisation you have Ďnoviceí, Ďproficientí and Ďenthusiast/expertí users, and ideally you would like to cater to all. Now that Radeon Software is in a fairly stable space, AMD has turned their attention to driving up participation so more users get more from their Radeon hardware. A tough task.

Encouraging the involvement of novice users in the relatively complex world of settings tweaking involves clearing two key barriers: the knowledge gap, and the confidence gap. Users need to be educated, and to a certain extent reassured, that tweaking isnít a forbidden past-time thatís the sole province of experts. With that in mind, AMD are introducing a Triumvirate of ĎAdvisorsí that will take those just starting out through the process of optimising their experience.

Game Advisor

As you might expect, the Game Adviser recommends in-game settings that will improve performance without sacrificing visual fidelity. The classic example is tweaking down shadow quality, but it extends across all quality settings that the software knows to be in the game. But this isnít some tame WikiHow itís reading off.

When in game the advisor continuously measures in-game performance over time, capturing key statistics such as frame times and rates. Itís also API agnostic, operating happily with DirectX 11/12 and Vulkan. Through integration into the Radeon Overlay this process, including settings tweaks, can occur as youíre playing rather than continually needing to alt-tab out or quit and restart. Pretty nifty.

The Game Advisor will not tweak the settings for you however, this is no Ďone-click optimiserí. However, by making you interface with settings menus and become familiar and confident with them, youíll hopefully use them again in the future with or without the Advisorís help.

Settings Advisor

In-game settings are only part of the equation of course; familiarity with drivers and hardware also means getting to grips with hardware settings accessible through software. Thatís where the Settings Advisor comes in.

This Advisor analyses system specifications and recommends hardware and software features to enable. Examples of these are FreeSync, Virtual Super-Resolution and Radeon Chill, but this list can be added to as new features are added to the driver stack.

To avoid pestering users the Settings Advisor will only run once unprompted, but can be requested at any time.

Upgrade Advisor

The Upgrade Advisor has identified our R9 290 as a weak link in a couple of titles.

Another aspect of PC ownership is knowing when to upgrade, and what to upgrade. Triggers to upgrading your system are many and varied, but videogame minimum and recommended specifications are important ones.

The Upgrade Advisor analyses your hardware and compares it to the developer/publisher recommendations for games in your catalogue and other popular titles. It will flag up where your hardware doesnít meet minimums and recommendations (with a colour indicator) and also indicate upgrade options with AMDís current CPU and GPU lineup. A quick hands-on also indicated that it doesn't unnecessarily penalise Intel's CPU hardware, so AMD look to be keeping things honest and above-board.

The Upgrade Advisor has suggested transitioning to Radeon RX Vega to meet recommended specifications


As you can see, getting users more comfortable with Radeon Settings and better in tune with their hardware is the whole point of this. Graduating a Novice/Beginner user to an enthusiast implicitly broadens the user-base of performance hardware, which is clearly to AMD's long-term benefit.

Nonetheless educating users and overcoming their mental hurdles is an excruciatingly difficult process, and is the (often neglected) responsibility of both technology sites and manufacturers themselves. All credit to the AMD Radeon software team for getting stuck in.


So, is that it? No, not by a long shot. Next up are a few new features for more intermediate-level enthusiast users Ė those comfortable with dabbling in the driver settings, but perhaps want to squeeze a little more from their hardware.

Radeon WattMan

One of the success stories of previous yearly driver refreshes, Radeon WattMan is a centralised location for managing performance, cooling and voltage settings of Radeon GCN-class graphics cards. The level of customisation available to the user depends on the generation of GPU Ė older GCN cards lack some of the sensor technology of newer generations, limiting how feasible certain tweaking options would be over existing 3rd party partner tools.

Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 2019 expands the featureset of WattMan to incorporate new tweaking tools specifically for RX Series and Vega-class GPUs. The features exposed depend on the class of GPU, with Vega being particularly well catered to.

RX Series cards (which includes the Polaris-based Radeon RX 400/500 as well as RX Vega) are treated to custom temperature-dependent fan curves and a new zero-RPM fan mode. Although present on some 3rd party tools, this is the first time the WattMan Global and Game Profile-specific settings have made it adjustable within the first-party software.

Vega discrete GPUs however get some very nice toys to play with. First among them is one-click tuning of GPU and Memory auto-overclocks within safe boundaries, analysing GPU behaviour over time for instability precursors to ensure it doesnít pass the bounds of what the GPU is capable of. Thatís particularly nice for enthusiasts who donít want to get their hands too dirty with overclocking settings.

WattMan also now exposes all Vega Dynamic Power Management (DPM) states for finer levels of control, rather than just the two top-end P-states. Alongside that is a new auto-undervolting tool which will help to reduce power draw across all use cases, for owners who feel that power efficiency trumps performance.

Finally, AMD have tuned memory management for certain memory-bound applications on a targeted rather than general basis, which may have both professional and consumer applications at high resolutions and image quality settings

Other General Feature Improvements

Radeon Chill:- Improved the algorithm for power saving, which will be particularly useful for gaming notebooks. Nonetheless, Chill is a tool you might want to play around with on your desktop system as with this update it offers as much as 20% reduced power consumption across a wide range of games.

FreeSync 2 HDR:- Auto tone-mapping that generates better contrasts. HDR is still a nascent display technology, but increasing in importance.

Virtual Super-Resolution:- Ultra-wide (21:9) display support.

Ultra-wide display support for VSR was a feature particularly highly requested by the community.

Radeon Overlay

Relatively new compared to some of the features offered by Radeon Software, the Radeon Overlay (enabled by pressing ALT+R in game) is an in-game overlay that presents driver and hardware information to the user and allows some level of configuration control whilst in-game. The initial UI was a little ad-hoc, and so AMD have sought to streamline it with this update in addition to offering greater functionality.

As of the update the Radeon Overlay is now substantially more consistent in its groupings and layout. For example, all display settings are on a single Overlay tab, allowing users to toggle FreeSync and Enhanced Sync, and adjust colour settings on the fly on a per game profile basis.

Capture and display of Performance Metrics has also been improved, both in terms of accuracy and display location. That also ties in with the Radeon Game Advisor; more comprehensive metrics pull double-duty for both new users and enthusiast gamers.

AMD Link

Complementing the Radeon Overlay are new additions to the AMD Link Android and iOS smartphone/table app. AMD clearly view Link and expansion into the smartphone software arena as a major avenue to exploit that is both untapped by the competition and of genuine value to end users. Prior to now the feature set was quite restrictive, but with RSAE 2019 it expands quite significantly.

At a basic level, core functionality improves thanks to better stability over WiFi, and QOL updates that include remote driver update functionality through the phone and Voice Control activated by the ĎHey Radeoní command. English, Cantonese and Mandarin Voice Control is supported at launch, with other languages to be added depending on demand. Not a bad start.

However, how about performance metrics? Well, AMD Link can now display real-time metrics (with logging) on your smartphone, side-stepping the need for desktop screen realestate. If metrics are important, but gameplay is primary, thereís probably few better ways to combine the two.

Not only that, AMD Link will now also support Radeon WattMan in-app. And yes, that does mean you can overclock your GPU through your phone. Okay, thatís pretty niche even as niche functionality goes, but it does also mean no need for alt-tabbing or the Radeon Overlay to adjust clocks on the fly. Just be very careful you donít fat-finger the inputs.

Last but not least, weíll be discussing Radeon ReLive improvements in a moment, but we should mention that the AMD Link app will also incorporate Radeon ReLive video preview, as well as offering more comprehensive video file management in-app.

Radeon ReLive

Itís probably fair to say that Radeon ReLive, AMDís native game capture and streaming utility, has received the most comprehensive attention with the RSAE 2019 update. Already one of the most configurable tools available outside of purpose-built 3rd party software, itís been expanded still further into some quite unexpected realms.

For game capture and streaming the most exciting addition to ReLive is almost certainly the new in-game instant replay feature. Instant Replay has been a part of ReLive since the beginning, recording an auxiliary buffer of gameplay video which can be dumped to a file with the stroke of a hotkey. Now itís possible to use similar functionality to replay the last few seconds of gameplay (up to 30seconds) in an overlay on-screen, bringing a new level of dynamism to your stream production. The highlight overlay window can be repositioned as you desire, keeping it consistent with your custom screen overlay. Nifty.

While rebindable, streaming default streaming hotkeys are generally fairly clumsy to use on the fly. If a convenient combination isnít immediately obvious, it may be a good time to start remapping macro keys on your keyboard (or as a more advanced option, a stream deck).

But thatís not all. The built-in streaming scene editor has been improved and ReLive now allows for hotkey-based transitions between scenes, allowing users to produce more professional-looking streams with essentially free software.

More quality of life additions include better GIF support and direct upload to Gfycat for all your memeing needs, 900p stream support, and multi-channel streamed audio, all leading to higher stream quality. And the cherry on top is an increase in the maximum Live Streaming Bitrate to 50Mbps and Recording Bitrate to 100Mbps.

Excellent work. However AMD have gone further.

Streaming to Device

As we mentioned, AMD are turning to the mobile platform as new territory that complements rather than replaces desktop stream. And what better way to do that than unlock game streaming to any Android or iOS mobile device?

From the outset AMDís aim was to offer a PC-like gaming experience on any mobile device, and the best way is now a relatively familiar one but using a customary commitment to open platforms.

Via ReLive and AMD Link itís now possible to stream gameplay to a smartphone or tablet, with game control possible through both an on-screen touch control overlay or a standard Bluetooth hardware controlled hooked up to the phone/tablet. The result is an amazingly flexible solution whose only limitation is the quality of the network connection and compatibility with the new controller type. In terms of the latter at least, the ubiquity with which even PC games are released with comprehensive controller support should mean that the experience is a great one.

The App will analyse network quality and recommend stream settings, but currently it cannot adjust dynamically to dips in quality, resulting in artefacting in some circumstances. However even some infamously poor event location network conditions of our hands-on demo didnít result in a poor experience.

The feature will be particularly beneficial to those who play games without a mobile client, especially more casual games still in Beta. One example available right now is the Magic The Gathering: Arena Open Beta, which has many prospective players crying out for a native mobile client similar to other less complex CCGs.

As well as game streaming, the new combination of apps can also stream PC desktops and video, which is a nice edge case that in particular opens up mobile hardware without certain native apps being available for the platform.

And so, thatís the Radeon Software Adrenalin Edi- No, wait. Thereís just one more thing.

ReLive For VR

Why cater to just mobile for streaming, when you can really go the whole way?

Like many of us in the technology industry AMD Radeon seem to be a little disappointed in the uptake of Virtual Reality amongst PC gamers. Part of that has to be the cost of premium solutions from Oculus and HTC and consequent barrier to entry, but a lack of more affordable HMDs also hurts. That said, these HMDs such as the HTC Vive Focus and Google Daydream platform are available as standalone devices, so why shouldnít the PC also have access to them?

Thorough AMD ReLive For VR, itís now possible to use those platforms as a wireless, untethered HMD for the plethora of games currently available through the SteamVR ecosystem. All the rendering is performed by the high performance PC with discrete AMD GPU, while the HMD takes care of display and gyroscopic sensors. Low-latency bi-directional communication maintains the sense of Ďimmersioní, while either the rudimentary control HMD controllers or more advanced game controllers can take care of game inputs.

Successful implementation means a more affordable path to a good VR experience on PC thatís complementary with existing mobile VR platforms, and a stepping-stone to premium VR in the future. Most importantly, it gets VR experience into the hands (and eyes) of mainstream gamers, something that PC VR hasnít done a good job of to date.

Due to the demands of the technology (specifically low-latency video encode) ReLive for VR is available on Radeon RX 470, 480, 570, 580, 590 and RX Vega-class discrete GPUs only at this time. It can support resolutions up to 1400x1400 per eye, and will tailor streamed resolutions to the quality of the wireless connection.

And so, with Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 2019, AMD are forging ahead with bringing the benefits of streaming and VR to the masses, in a manner thatís as platform agnostic as possible, in addition to a raft of new desktop-only features and free performance upgrades. Not bad Red Team, not bad at all.

In Summary

Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 2019 - AMD Radeonís now-traditional yearly Ďbig bangí driver utility update Ė is bringing:

- 23 new consumer-level features for every type of user, from complete novice through to enthusiast streamer,
- Cumulative performance updates worth 15% more FPS on average across the latest triple-A PC games,
- Quality of Life improvements that will make everyone more comfortable with getting under the hood of their desktop PC,
- Intriguing expansion into mobile through AMD Link, with the possibility of further mobile/smartphone features,
- New livestreaming production functionality
- Game Streaming to Mobile
- ReLive on VR, increasing the affordability and viability of untethered VR for the PC.

And thatís without even touching on the Professional-level Adrenalin Edition 2019 driver stack.

As always, you can download the drivers at Once again we reiterate that not all features discussed above are available on all generations of AMD hardware, but gamers equipped with Radeon RX 400, 500 and Vega-class GPUs are in the best position to take advantage of whatís available.