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Do New Drivers Really Boost Performance?

Radeon HD 4870: Driver Update From 8.6 To 8.8

The driver versions are listed directly after the chip name. The resolutions go from 1280x1024 to 1680x1050 to 1920x1200 pixels, first without anti-aliasing (0xAA), then in the same order with anti-aliasing (4xAA, and in Mass Effect 8xAA as well). The two upper lines of figures represent the frame rates;, the lower line is the difference in performance in percentage.

Assassins Creed in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.657.357.658.343.943.743.5304.3
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.857.758.457.944.443.543.8305.7
Difference in performance in percentage0.71.4-0.71.1-0.50.70.5

The results are within a reasonable margin of error. The new driver brings no performance gain.

Call of Duty 4 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.6178.0150.2121.3134.2110.194.7788.5
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8182.1149.5126.2137.6110.792.1798.2
Difference in performance in percentage2.3-0.54.02.50.5-2.71.2

The fluctuations are a little higher, but again, not particularly notable. A slight increase in 3D speed can be seen in the 1280 resolution.

Crysis High in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.631.432.229.327.124.920.1165.0
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.831.929.729.526.924.121.1163.2
Difference in performance in percentage1.6-7.80.7-0.7-3.25.0-1.1

The wide variations in Crysis also indicate optimization of an error in the driver. This one is tough to explain. To rule out a measurement error, the results were tested several times; 1 fps to 2 fps lies in the tolerance range.

Crysis Very High in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.629.220.817.821.113.410.8113.1
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.828.822.018.122.015.711.4118.0
Difference in performance in percentage-1.45.81.74.317.25.64.3

In the Very High setting, fluctuations of the frame rates can also be seen. There does not appear to be any reason for these variations, although a performance increase is almost always seen.

ET: Quake Wars in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.666.864.865.864.965.464.1391.8
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.767.765.466.266.664.264.2394.3
Difference in performance in percentage1.30.90.62.6-1.80.20.6

The Radeon HD 4870 should technically fail this one entirely, as the Catalyst 8.8 driver refused to start Quake Wars. However, the Catalyst 8.6 and Catalyst 8.7 worked perfectly, so the Catalyst 8.7, was used for the test. The measurements are within the margin of error. However, as with Call of Duty 4, we found minimal gains in the CPU-heavy 1280 resolution.

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.6105.9100.9100.2105.4100.4100.1612.9
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.8107.2101.4100.6105.8101.5100.1616.6
Difference in performance in percentage1.20.50.40.41.10.00.6

Half-Life 2 Episode 2 already runs optimally on the AMD card. Greater performance increases should not be expected from the new graphics driver.

Mass Effect in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAA12808xAA16808xAA19208xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.694.889.882.564.048.338.662.747.337.8565.8
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.895.992.281.963.948.438.862.147.137.5567.8
Difference in performance in percentage1.22.7-0.7-0.20.20.5-1.0-0.4-0.80.4

With Mass Effect there is no change; the minor differences and fluctuations are normal.

MS Flight Simulator X SP2 in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.625.725.125.125.925.625.6153.0
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.825.225.925.925.925.825.7154.4
Difference in performance in percentage-1.93.23.20.00.80.40.9

No relevant improvements are seen; the results lie within the measuring tolerances.

World in Conflict in fps12800xAA16800xAA19200xAA12804xAA16804xAA19204xAAOverall
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.646.950.347.843.837.734.8261.3
HD 4870 (512 MB) 8.848.049.947.543.937.033.8260.1
Difference in performance in percentage2.3-0.8-0.60.2-1.9-2.9-0.5

The driver update does not make any visible change; the measurements are within the usual fluctuations.

  • pcgamer12
    Great article.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    LedrosTo bad you used 8.8 drivers instead of the 8.9 ones. Real smart people.
    This is observed in the piece and should not affect performance.
    Reply
  • curnel_D
    Lol.
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    SoulLance"Unfortunately for AMD and its customers, the PowerPlay optimization for energy-efficient 2D operation is not included in the Catalyst 8.8 driver for the Radeon HD 4870. Quake Wars refuses to start using the Catalyst 8.8, but it works fine with the Catalyst 8.6 and 8.7."But neither should comments like this appear when everyone on the planet reads a labels that clearly say "Use latest drivers from manufacturer".
    Can you please translate this into english?
    I have no idea what you mean to say with your comment, other than the obvious (that you disagree on some level with the article)
    Reply
  • randomizer
    He's saying you shouldn't criticise newer drivers because most hardware and software packaging has a label, or a section in the manual, telling you to use the latest drivers. So latest = best as far as he is concerned.
    Reply
  • In reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    SneppyIn reference to overclocking graphics cards, I'm pretty sure that XFX card warranties cover overclocking to some degree, though you'd have to double check their warranty fine print.Having had experience with two failing xfx cards (both 8800gtx's actually), I've got to warn you though, that their warranty is a bit fictional. While they may actually cover broken products, you can easily risk waiting months for a replacement.
    Proof of my claim in case someone unexpectedly doubts it : http://www.opel.cc/xfx8800gtx/xfx.htm
    That was the first failing card. The second I haven't even bothered sending in, and just bought an 4870 instead of waiting months.
    Reply
  • cryogenic
    We all know there were cases in the past when "Newer drivers provided substantial performance improvements" in various applications or games. Analyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevant, or that from a "professional" stand point the latest drivers shouldn't be chosen.
    Reply
  • randomizer
    CryogenicAnalyzing performance with a few select driver sets can can't lead to the conclusion that drivers are irrelevantBut it can lead to the conclusion that current drivers are irrelevant, or rather less relevant.
    Reply
  • cryogenic
    randomizer
    That's a good,true and useful conclusion, but it's not a general one, only specific to this particular set of drivers.
    Reply