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Dual-GPU Battle: Does Frame Pacing In Catalyst 13.8 Turn The Tide?

Dual-GPU Battle: Does Frame Pacing In Catalyst 13.8 Turn The Tide?
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We take AMD's Catalyst 13.8 beta driver for a spin to see if its frame pacing feature fixes CrossFire's dropped and runt frame issues. Follow along as we compare the Radeon HD 7990 to Nvidia's GeForce GTX 690 in seven popular titles, with video to match!

Earlier this year, Nvidia introduced its Frame Capture Analysis Tool, giving us the ability to measure graphics performance in a new way. In essence, we capture the signal coming straight out of the DVI port losslessly, recording it onto an array of SSDs. The video file is sent through a series of Perl scripts that tell us how long each rendered frame is on-screen. This process incidentally also lets us know if a frame is clipped super-short (referred to as a runt frame) or if it doesn't show up at all (a dropped frame).

You can read more about the testing we've done using FCAT in Challenging FPS: Testing SLI And CrossFire Using Video Capture, and also in any number of the graphics card reviews we've published since then. To make a long story short, though, on multiple occasions, we've shown that two AMD Radeon graphics card working cooperatively in CrossFire incur a significant number of dropped and runt frames as both GPUs try to render as quickly as possible. Because those frames aren't perceived as you game, the benefit of having two GPUs decreases. Nvidia avoids this through a metering technology that deliberately displays frames in a more consistent manner.

At its best, critical journalism can be a catalyst for change (no pun intended). AMD let us know several months ago that it was working to implement a frame pacing feature in its driver that would similarly meter out frames, inserting small delays where necessary in order to display them at a consistent interval. As you no doubt already know, frame pacing made its debut late last month in the Catalyst 13.8 beta driver. The feature is turned on by default, and company representatives say that observed frame rates shouldn't be negatively affected in most games.

AMD's work is far from over, though. Its 13.8 driver is the first step in this new direction. But support for frame pacing is limited to DirectX 10- and 11-based games on one monitor at resolutions up to 2560x1600. That means it doesn't work in DirectX 9 games, OpenGL-based games, or in multi-monitor arrays. Compatibility with those APIs and technologies will follow in a phase-two driver, though there's no estimate for its arrival. Eyefinity is probably the biggest loss, since the scaling of CrossFire practically begs for a three-screen setup. We'll take what we can get though, and we're eager to put AMD's implementation of frame pacing through our suite of tests using one display at 2560x1440.

The Catalyst 13.8 beta driver also offers OpenGL 4.3 support, though of course it doesn't work in conjunction with frame pacing. The beta driver accommodates saving custom OpenGL settings on a per-application basis, and Catalyst Application Profiles (CAP) updates also add OpenGL-based titles. In addition, AMD claims a performance speed-up of up to 7% in Metro: Last Light.

You probably noticed that the Radeon HD 7990 is down $300, from $1000 to $700. Although AMD's flagship is more power-hungry than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 690, and not suited, we determined, in quad-CrossFire configurations, there's no way to simply shrug off such a huge price cut. With that in mind, this is a great opportunity to reconsider the 7990 with an update purported to fix the issues we discovered back in April.

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  • 22 Hide
    CarlitoBanderas , September 3, 2013 10:43 PM
    What's the point of a 690 ? in 1080o & 1440p it's slower than the 7990, in 4K & multi monitor it doesn't have enough memory & it's 300 bucks more expensive.
    Nvidia needs to bring out a 790 asap, the 690 is not competitive anymore.
  • 11 Hide
    viewgamer , September 3, 2013 10:12 PM
    The Metro Last Light benchmark is a modern example of the way Nvidia handles its business.
    These strong arm tactics to eliminate the competition aren't beneficial to anyone, Nvidia's less than pleasant business practices is why I try to support AMD whenever possible.
Other Comments
  • 7 Hide
    jimmysmitty , September 3, 2013 9:25 PM
    The drivers do seem to make the FPS much smoother overall. BF3 is a good example with the game dropping then jumping and so on but 13.8 made it a much smoother line.

    Its good to see that work is being done to make it more competitive but I fear that its almost pointless since Hawaii XT is on its way and will be a better option in CFX.

    Also Laras hair on the GTX690 was funny. Just fluttering around like crazy. I guess TressFX does make a difference after all.
  • 8 Hide
    jase240 , September 3, 2013 9:46 PM
    This is great, AMD is finally getting on par for dual GPU config with Nvidia!!
    This might make 2 AMD cards a way better value than Nvidia!!
  • 2 Hide
    slicedtoad , September 3, 2013 9:47 PM
    awesome, I'm glad they got around to addressing that indiscrepancy.
  • -1 Hide
    viewgamer , September 3, 2013 10:11 PM
    The Metro Last Light benchmark is a modern example of the way Nvidia handles its business.
    These strong arm tactics to eliminate the competition aren't beneficial to anyone, Nvidia's less than pleasant business practices is why I try to support AMD whenever possible.
  • 11 Hide
    viewgamer , September 3, 2013 10:12 PM
    The Metro Last Light benchmark is a modern example of the way Nvidia handles its business.
    These strong arm tactics to eliminate the competition aren't beneficial to anyone, Nvidia's less than pleasant business practices is why I try to support AMD whenever possible.
  • 9 Hide
    Emma Long , September 3, 2013 10:31 PM
    Apart from Metro the 7990 tied the 690 on two occasions and beat it in the rest, that's very encouraging from the red team.
    The situation with Metro last light seems peculiar to me, we've seen things like this before with Nvidia sponsored titles & I thought the industry was passed this sort of thing.
    Nvidia can compete, it has proven so time and time again, which makes this all the more reprehensible.
    I would like to see an Nvidia that competes on the basis of performance & features not strong-arming developers.

    Back to the 7990, so overall it's faster than the 690 and significantly less expensive, at $700 the 7990 puts very serious pressure on the 780 so I'd like to see the 780 added into the benchmarking mix as well.
  • 22 Hide
    CarlitoBanderas , September 3, 2013 10:43 PM
    What's the point of a 690 ? in 1080o & 1440p it's slower than the 7990, in 4K & multi monitor it doesn't have enough memory & it's 300 bucks more expensive.
    Nvidia needs to bring out a 790 asap, the 690 is not competitive anymore.
  • 2 Hide
    m32 , September 3, 2013 11:35 PM
    I've enjoyed this article, Toms. We've seen the flaws and now some improvements with the 7990.
  • 4 Hide
    _zxzxzx_ , September 3, 2013 11:41 PM
    AMD deserves a pat on the back for working hard on improving their drivers
  • 2 Hide
    aggroboy , September 3, 2013 11:42 PM
    Quote:
    What's the point of a 690 ? in 1080o & 1440p it's slower than the 7990, in 4K & multi monitor it doesn't have enough memory & it's 300 bucks more expensive.
    Nvidia needs to bring out a 790 asap, the 690 is not competitive anymore.

    Enthusiast mindshare is still dominated by the GTX Titan, so Nvidia can afford to stand pat.
  • 1 Hide
    tomfreak , September 4, 2013 12:07 AM
    base on the side by side youtube video, for some games I am having a hard time telling the diff between 3 setups. And all the video are in slowmotion, I need to really focus on the video to actually see the diff.

    If I am really playing the game, honestly I WILL not able to tell the diff lol.

    Frame pacing is a bonus welcome move, but getting the second card work flawlessly is still probably the main priority.

    I would much prefer Tomshardware to test multiple single GPU cards in SLI/crossfire than using 690/7990.(tho it is the same but multiple single GPU is much bigger market than dualGPUs) then after that throw in the triple card setup and compare the frame pacing vs dual card setup.
  • 2 Hide
    JJ1217 , September 4, 2013 12:23 AM
    Little bit weird about that Metro issue. Have you tried updating Metro? AMD cards even in single card configurations had this issue, when the game first came out, but it turned out it was a game issue. Kind of weird to be honest.
  • -6 Hide
    thartist , September 4, 2013 12:44 AM
    Yeah well, 13.8 beta2 are already available so that makes the article insta-old, doesn't it?
    http://support.amd.com/us/kbarticles/Pages/AMDCatalyst13-8WINBetaDriver.aspx
  • 3 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 4, 2013 1:04 AM
    Quote:
    The Metro Last Light benchmark is a modern example of the way Nvidia handles its business.
    These strong arm tactics to eliminate the competition aren't beneficial to anyone, Nvidia's less than pleasant business practices is why I try to support AMD whenever possible.


    are you sure its not just that AMD drivers are often problematic, and you should support the green team because their solution has far less issues? which is what you should want as a consumer, it's not about loyalty to one company or the other.
    AMD has their own "strong arm tactics" as you describe to benefit their own solutions to make their products appealing in some situations. I was tricked by this as an ex-crossfire owner.......i expected more performance but instead got stuttering......
    Nvidia are able to back their solutions by delivering real world performance as expected by the consumer, AMD does not.....
    I will not support AMD or Nvidia wherever possible as for some reason you do, i just buy the best solution for needs. I owe these companies nothing.
  • 4 Hide
    cRACKmONKEY421 , September 4, 2013 1:49 AM
    Good article! Hard to tell the difference in the videos, but I'd say nVidia has the slight edge overall still. Not a $300 for less memory edge, so I'd say AMD is the better buy here.

    What's with all the talking about tomorrows article though? Sounds like you've got the info about gamer experience. I want that :p 

    Sometimes it's hard to see the difference in frames and movement, but it's always easy to feel them. I game @ 120Hz&FPS, and 1000Hz mouse. It's hard to justify those rates on paper or to see a difference in the higher rates as a spectator, but they're instantly noticeable when playing. Not sure why everyone got the "60Hz is fine" mentality. While staring at a black monitor, it's possible to identify an object that appears as a flicker on the screen for less than a 200th of a second. Just one random example. Even if our eyeballs had a 60 FPS cap, they don't support v-sync yet. Now I'm just ranting hahah
  • -1 Hide
    viewgamer , September 4, 2013 1:52 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    The Metro Last Light benchmark is a modern example of the way Nvidia handles its business.
    These strong arm tactics to eliminate the competition aren't beneficial to anyone, Nvidia's less than pleasant business practices is why I try to support AMD whenever possible.


    are you sure its not just that AMD drivers are often problematic, and you should support the green team because their solution has far less issues? which is what you should want as a consumer, it's not about loyalty to one company or the other.
    AMD has their own "strong arm tactics" as you describe to benefit their own solutions to make their products appealing in some situations. I was tricked by this as an ex-crossfire owner.......i expected more performance but instead got stuttering......
    Nvidia are able to back their solutions by delivering real world performance as expected by the consumer, AMD does not.....
    I will not support AMD or Nvidia wherever possible as for some reason you do, i just buy the best solution for needs. I owe these companies nothing.

    AMD does not use any kind of strong-armed tactics, in fact it's against their internal code of conduct, all the evidence for Nvidia's strong-armed tactics is well documented during the geforce 6000, 7000, 200, 400, 500 & now we are seeing it again.
    A few examples are the 3DMark benchmark scandel, & in he early 2000s where Nvidia strong-armed the developers into not supporting ATi's far superior anti aliasing implementation in-games.

    Nvidia in fact does not offer less problematic solutions, as evidenced by the catastrophe that is the 312.08 drivers that killed cards.
    I have no loyalty to any company, but I refuse to support any company that harms the customer, Nvidia continually does things to harm AMD customers, if you call that better driver support then you have bought Nvidia's PR.
    I bet you've never owned a crossfirex setup, AMD did in fact have a stutter free experience through their RadeonPro software, the software is in fact developed by indepednent fans but all of its features were implemented with the help of AMD engineers.
    Where do you think Nvidia got Adaptive V-Sync from ? it was stolen from RadeonPro, AMD users had access to dynamic V-Sync for over 4 years.

    The only reason people like you buy Nvidia cards is because they feel elitist by doing so, they feel like the big green bully is their friend & when that big green bully starts beating up on the small red folk you stand and applaud, disgusting.
  • -3 Hide
    TotallyHeroes , September 4, 2013 2:18 AM
    So AMD does in fact have the fastest graphics card in the world.
    AMD's marketing is shit Nvidia's is much better.
    Marketing is what sells the product, actual performance doesn't matter much.
  • 3 Hide
    Justin Pinotti , September 4, 2013 2:55 AM
    Quote:

    AMD does not use any kind of strong-armed tactics, in fact it's against their internal code of conduct, all the evidence for Nvidia's strong-armed tactics is well documented during the geforce 6000, 7000, 200, 400, 500 & now we are seeing it again.
    A few examples are the 3DMark benchmark scandel, & in he early 2000s where Nvidia strong-armed the developers into not supporting ATi's far superior anti aliasing implementation in-games.

    Nvidia in fact does not offer less problematic solutions, as evidenced by the catastrophe that is the 312.08 drivers that killed cards.
    I have no loyalty to any company, but I refuse to support any company that harms the customer, Nvidia continually does things to harm AMD customers, if you call that better driver support then you have bought Nvidia's PR.
    I bet you've never owned a crossfirex setup, AMD did in fact have a stutter free experience through their RadeonPro software, the software is in fact developed by indepednent fans but all of its features were implemented with the help of AMD engineers.
    Where do you think Nvidia got Adaptive V-Sync from ? it was stolen from RadeonPro, AMD users had access to dynamic V-Sync for over 4 years.

    The only reason people like you buy Nvidia cards is because they feel elitist by doing so, they feel like the big green bully is their friend & when that big green bully starts beating up on the small red folk you stand and applaud, disgusting.


    and lets not forget the fact that nVidia recently payed off ubisoft to optimize their games for nVidia GPUs... obviously nVidia is scared of the fact that both the PS4 and Xbone are full AMD machines, simply meaning most future ports will be better optimized for AMD machines.
  • 0 Hide
    qlum , September 4, 2013 4:01 AM
    While it is hard to benchmark the game properly Planetside 2 is a game where framerate clearly doesn't tell the whole story, You can hit an average framerate of 50 in big battles yet still have plenty of drops bellow 20 just for a very short while, short enough not to register on the minimum framerate but big and often enough to really make it all feel very laggy. Shame you can't really benchmark it well as its also one of the few games that can be extremely cpu hungry at some points.
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