We usually don’t spend much time covering individual driver updates. After all, with ATI launching a new Catalyst version each month and Nvidia peppering beta releases in between its qualified driver drops, covering new drivers is nearly an editorial position of its own.
But when ATI approached us about some of the improvements being wrapped up into the forthcoming 10.2 and 10.3 Catalyst releases, set for February and March availability, respectively, I noticed a handful of planned features that I had been receiving email about from readers. Hopefully, the following list of upcoming additions will be good news to early adopters of the Radeon HD 5000-series cards, CrossFire, and Mobility Radeon graphics.
On February 17th, ATI is releasing its Catalyst 10.2 package, which introduces a handful of capabilities.
CrossFireX Profiles: To begin, CrossFire profiles are being broken out into a separate binary that users can install to get the latest application profiles. This addresses the issue of trailing support for CrossFire after a game has already been launched, but before a scheduled Catalyst software drop. In the past, we would have seen ATI push a hotfixed version of the driver to get CrossFire running. Now, the separate profiles can be updated without having to touch the driver. These are not user-editable, as many folks wanted. But this represents a solid step toward more quickly adding support to games ATI's software team didn't get to touch during development.
CrossFireX Re-Architecture: This one was of particular interest to me. Having recently spent a fair amount of time benchmarking Lucid’s Hydra technology, which claims to not only enable ATI/ATI and Nvidia/Nvidia configurations, but also mixed-vendor multi-card rendering, I was curious as to where ATI is going here.
The company already facilitates more flexibility than Nvidia when it comes to mixing and matching cards within a given GPU generation. But now ATI is pulling the multi-GPU code from the 3D driver and re-writing it into a new, separate multi-GPU driver. This won’t offer any tangible benefit today, but it will in the future, ATI says. Think: mixing cards from different generations, not just cards from the same generation.
The old architecture was pretty much limited to alternate-frame rendering. Thus, the only way you could break up the workload was to have the high-end GPU render four frames and the lower-end model do the fifth, and so on, for example. The re-architecting affords more flexibility, allowing one GPU to handle vertex processing, while the other handles rendering (again, as an example). This will become a major component of the Fusion APU when it’s paired to discrete graphics cards.
Ultra-Low Power State: This was one of the features we were introduced to when ATI first started talking about its Radeon HD 5970. In essence, when you’re running a CrossFire configuration, the driver is able to put the secondary GPU into a low-power sleep state. The savings versus both cards simply idling, ATI says, can be as much as 12W.
CrossFireX For Eyefinity: First previewed alongside the Radeon HD 5970, ATI is including official CrossFireX support for Eyefinity triple-display configurations. The lack of CrossFire support in Eyefinity mode was one of my sharpest criticisms when the Radeon HD 5870 first launched. The introduction of this feature is truly what justifies buying a pair of high-end Radeon HD 5000-series graphics cards. Gaming at 5760x1200 is a glorious experience.
DisplayPort Audio: Though this is undoubtedly a minor addition to most, if your DisplayPort-equipped monitor includes speakers, it’s now possible to get audio to them over the digital interface. This isn’t something home theater enthusiasts or even a majority of gamers will care about, but stands as a notable addition nevertheless.