Reflecting On AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition's Debut Months

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅03.05.2016 20:18:39

It has been a little over five months since AMD formally unveiled their most comprehensive driver refresh in years - Radeon Software Crimson Edition (RSCE). Whilst not without its teething problems, the Crimson Edition update both meaningfully slimmed down the software's memory footprint and increased start-up speed, all while making the UI more than a touch more intuitive. An excellent start, but how have their promises of more regular updates stood up? Quite well, as it turn out.

Prior to the release of RSCE 16.4.2 we've counted at least seven updates to the Crimson Edition driver set. Each of these has either hotfixed a pressing issue, added meaningful performance improvements, diversified the supported feature list, or a combination thereof. It's therefore been noticeable just how much AMD have stepped up their game in terms of rolling out driver updates, especially in tandem with major AAA titles such as Rise of the Tomb Raider and Far Cry Primal. That's critically important due to the ever-increasing complexity of AAA titles and the awkward transition period to the DirectX 12 era, also letting consumers know that they're not being left to fend for themselves if problems arise; and indeed, it's in stark contrast to a rather dismal pre-Crimson 2015.

Furthermore some games have been all-but broken on launch, but AMD have bustled to address performance issues in a prompt manner where its in their power to do so. An example of this is Radeon Software Crimson Edition 16.4.1, which boosted Quantum Break performance by as much as 35% depending on system configuration compared with the previous driver set.

As promising as this recent trend of solid performance boost has been, it's worth remembering that AMD's driver package was notoriously CPU intensive compared to their NVIDIA equivalent. The legacy of that weakness has been relatively weak DirectX 10/11 performance on CPU-limited hardware alongside scope for title-specific frame-rate improvements. The flip side in the last few months has been considerable benefits when moving to low-level APIs such as DirectX 12 and Vulkan, where the driver is simpler and has been developed from scratch.

Looking ahead Andrej Zdravkovic, a former employee at ATI who has rejoined AMD as a Corporate VP of Software and Platform Engineering, recently said:

“Delivering great customer experiences means building feature-rich products that are reliable, high performing, and power efficient. However, being ‘competitive’ is not enough. Only industry-leading products and designs will enable us to establish a winning brand that customers will respect and desire.”

That acknowledgement is critically important to turning around the public perception of AMD's driver package, and they've followed through thus far. Already this year they've matched the number of WHQL updates their drivers underwent in the year between Catalyst Omega and RSCE, providing a level of reassurance to industry groups as well as consumer. They've also launched new features during that time, including:

- API and SDK support for next-generation API such as Vulkan™ and DirectX® 12 Quick Response Queue
- Release of the AMD LiquidVR SDK to developers for VR projects which leverage AMD hardware advantages
- Driver and hardware support during the launch of both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive VR headsets
- External graphics support with XCONNECT via Intel's Thunderbolt 3 I/O standard
- Double digit performance improvements for a raft of titles when using Radeon Graphics hardware
- Radeon Settings-specific features such as well organised per-game configuration profiles, Dual-Display Eyefinity, Crossfire Status Indicator and the Power Efficiency Toggle.

Transition to RSCE did necessitate a few awkward compromises, and perhaps the most significant was discontinuing ongoing driver support for pre-GCN graphics cards. That's quite a sacrifice - the HD 4000-6000-series included some of AMD's most popular models from yesteryear, but as it was RSCE still supported all new GPUs since the latest architecture was debuted in 2011.

Early software work on Vulcan and DirectX 12, coupled with a hardware architecture that appears to suite Microsoft's new API, stands AMD in good stead and has lead to some early performance wins over the competition. Realistically however, AMD's greatest challenge lays ahead of them. In fighting to regain market share they need to continue to engender trust in both hardware and software, and ensure that driver support is spotless across two distinct hardware architectures. New design wins for Polaris in the mobile sector also needs to be backed up by robust mobile GPU driver support, something which it should be said no vendor has excelled at in the past.

AMD's Radeon Technologies Group, formed last year under the stewardship of Raja Koduri, have good reason to look back at recent achievements and feel proud. They're also listening to the press and (far more importantly) enthusiast communities to gauge their priorities. 2016 has the potential to be a watershed year for AMD's graphics arm, and Radeon Software Crimson Edition has put them in position to take advantage of the switch to the next generation.

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