AMD Dual Graphics: Good For Benchmarks, Not For Gaming
Does adding a discrete graphics card to one of AMD's APUs, enabling Dual Graphics, yield higher frame rates in your favorite games? Sure it does, according to Fraps.
But does it result in smoother gameplay, based on what you see rendered on-screen? After playing around with the feature ourselves, we didn't think so. So, we went about looking for a way to demonstrate. Since FCAT doesn't work due to issues with AMD's driver, we stepped back and used the video we'd normally feed through FCAT instead. And the results aren't pretty for Dual Graphics.
There's a disconnect between the higher frame rates reported in Fraps and the what you actually see when you capture the DVI port's output. This is a feature AMD has been talking about for almost two years now. Dual Graphics should be mature. We're not sure how many mainstream gamers purchased a graphics card to go along with their Llano-, Trinity-, and Richland-based APUs, believing that they'd get a notably better experience, but from what we're seeing, those additional investments are largely going to waste.
Yes, Fraps is telling us that the average frame rates are notably higher. However, this very conundrum was what inspired FCAT in the first place. If the software is counting every dropped and runt frame toward Dual Graphics' average frame rate, then you're getting absolutely no benefit from pieces of frames like the one pictured that are artificially inflating performance.
We're not trying to pick on AMD. Despite knowledge of artifacts like micro-stuttering going back years, isolating experiential data is a more recent phenomenon championed by the team over at The Tech Report, and then further quantified through FCAT, developed by Nvidia. We're very glad that AMD is taking these issues seriously enough that it developed a special driver to help address them. Indeed, we'll be testing the latest Catalyst beta release shortly using the same technique, using it to see if the user experience improves with more consistent frame delivery. Assuming it does, we'll happily dole out the praise to AMD's software team.
With that said, the latest driver doesn't help Dual Graphics. And the problems with this technology are more severe than we imagined even before this story was conceptualized. We're hoping the company gets serious about fixing Dual Graphics, just as it did when it committed to improving CrossFire with two discrete GPUs. Right now it's evangelizing a feature that helps improve benchmark results, but not actual gameplay. That's just not right.