Comparing Three Different Graphics Cards
We begin by comparing graphics cards. AMD's Radeon HD 6000 series is represented by the 6970, and Nvidia's GeForce GTX 500 series by the 580. We also tested the GeForce GTX 680 prior to its launch in order to verify the newer card's output is similar to the old one, and it is. We also test the Radeon HD 7870 and Radeon 7970 to see if the issue spans the entire 7000 series, or if it's specific to AMD's Pitcairn GPU. All of the Radeon boards are tested with the Radeon HD 7800 press driver (8.95.5-120224a-134185E-ATI), while the lone GeForce is tested with the 295.73 WHQL driver.
Our first comparison comes from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Note how the tree texture on the right and rocks on the left are notably clearer on the GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970. The Radeon HD 7870 and 7970 are blurry in comparison.
Next up is Battlefield 3. Pay attention to the white building details at the top of the image. We see some blurry textures from the Radoen HD 7000-series cards, just as we did in Skyrim. The GeForce GTX 580 and Radeon HD 6970 are noticeably crisper.
In Metro 2033, the Radeon HD 7000 series delivers less texture detail once again. Note the changes in the small circles just upper-left of center.
We scrutinized Crysis 2 screenshots, but couldn't find any differences in texture quality.
So, out of the four games we tested, the Radeon HD 7000s demonstrated sub-par texture detail in three. Crysis 2 was the lone example where the output was consistent across our sample of boards, though that's no guarantee that Crysis 2 is impervious. It might simply means that the scene we chose to analyze doesn't suffer in an obvious way from the problem.
Regardless, because the Radeon HD 7870 and 7970 both suffer from the same lower-quality output in multiple titles, we can conclude that the texturing issue affects AMD's GCN-based GPUs, and not just the two cards centering on the company's Pitcairn processor.
Now that we've identified the issue as a Radeon HD 7000 problem, let's explore the driver situation more closely.