AMD Radeon Software is the new name for AMD’s graphics card drivers, which for the last 13 years have been called AMD Catalyst.
The new software is more than just a rebranding exercise though as AMD has completely overhauled several aspects of it, including scrapping the Catalyst Control Center and introducing the new AMD Radeon Settings app, which is supposed to be much faster to load and easier to use.
In the background there are also performance tweaks and developer tools, plus AMD is aiming to move to a release model that will see big annual updates. Each of these will have its own name, much like the way Google has Android versions named after desserts, except AMD will be going with different shades of red, starting with Crimson.
The new AMD Radeon Software Crimson driver is free to download and is compatible with all existing AMD graphics cards so you can go and try it today. Here’s what you’ll find if you do.
The driver's most prominent new feature is its completely revamped user interface. For starters there's a new installation dialogue that takes as few as three clicks to get the software installed, rather than the seven clicks it used to take.
More importantly the AMD Radeon Settings app that replaces Catalyst Control Center (CCC) is a huge improvement. Its first big claim is that it loads up to 10x faster than the old software and sure enough, in my tests it proved very snappy.
Related: AMD Radeon R7 370
In truth, if you’re running a powerful PC with a fast processor and SSD then Catalyst Control Center doesn’t take that long to load but on slower machines with hard drives instead of SSDs it could take up to 10 seconds to load. On my test machine CCC loaded in about 1.5s – a noticeable delay – while Radeon Settings loaded almost instantantly.
The interface itself is also much tidier and is largely easier to use. Instead of the 10 drop down menus of the old interface there are just five clearly labelled main options tabs. The change makes it much easier to drill down to the setting you want.
Helping to keep things tidy is that certain options are kept hidden until needed, such as the number of samples used in anti-aliasing. If you select “use application settings” it keeps this option hidden but if you select to override the application settings then the extra option appears.
This works quite well though isn’t perfect. For a start, it can sometimes be frustrating that you can’t find the setting you’re after because you haven’t turned on the parent setting that enables it.
Some settings are hidden...
...until other settings are turned on.
Also, the whole grid of rectangles that makes up each option is dynamic so you can resize the window and they all shuffle around and restack to fit. Combined with the new blocks appearing for otherwise hidden options and the fact the blocks are in no obvious order (not alphabetical etc) and it can sometimes take quite a bit of scanning back and forth to find the option you’re after.
Still, it’s mostly a step in the right direction and once you get used to it, the interface is definitely much quicker and easier to use than the old CCC.
Hitting the Gaming tab and you’re presented with what initially looks like a list of games. However, the top left tile is labelled global settings and its here that you can setup your preferred settings for whatever games you’re running.
If you then want to set specific options for certain games you can select the corresponding tile. This is a much more intuitive way of managing game specific settings than the previous CCC version and the driver did a good job of automatically detecting all the games I had installed – they were all listed there from the moment the driver was installed.
Jump into any of the game settings and you’re presented with essentially the same list of options as the global settings, with things like anti-alising, anisotropic filtering and the like under the left tab and AMD Overdrive on the right tab.
The latter is AMD’s graphics card overclocking tool, which as well as getting a new look has a new power limit/GPU clock option that makes it easy to dial in a slow and quiet or fast and loud profile for any given game (or your system overall).
This is a much clearer, easier way to access the app-specific optimisation that has been available for some time.
There’s nothing revolutionary here but the overall layout is easier on the eye and more intuitive, and I really like the way game-specific settings are brought to the fore.
Moving onto the Video tab and this is where you can tweak how your graphics card handles colour profiling and some video effects for making any video on your PC look its best.
You can quickly choose from a selection of presets that load what AMD thinks are the optimal set of features for films, sports and the like or hit Custom and you can choose for yourself which to load.
Most of the settings are ones that have been around for a while on existing versions of AMD drivers but one new feature is directional scaling, which is essentially anti-aliasing for video. However, it’s only available for Radeon Fury and Radeon Nano cards which I didn’t have for testing.
AMD is also highlighting reduced power consumption with Crimson when playing YouTube videos. That’s quite a specific scenario but a useful one nonetheless and in my tests I did record around a 20W reduction in power consumption when playing the same Star Wars The Force Awakens trailer AMD used in its tests. To highlight its specific nature, though, I also tested with VLC and saw no difference.
Under the Display settings tab is a key new feature of Radeon Software Crimson, which is the ability to use custom resolutions and framerates, rather than having to choose from a list of verified supported resolutions.
This can potentially cause problems for your monitor so AMD makes you agree to a waiver before accessing the option, but once opened you can pick from a large range of monitor options, even including detailed timing settings. Oddly though, this setting is accessed via the old Catalyst Control Center-style interface, which pops up after hitting the “Additional Settings” button in Radeon Settings.
In fact, most of the existing display settings are still confined to the CCC, including colour settings, HDTV options, scaling options and Pixel Format.
All you actually get in the Radeon Settings is AMD FreeSync, Virtual Super resolution, GPU scaling and Scaling mode, plus a monitor identify button. You don’t even get the option to change the resolution or framerate.
Meanwhile, under the Eyefinity tab it’s all the usual options for setting up a multi-monitor setup, just with the nice new layout.
As well as the Radeon Settings app, there are some key under-the-hood features in Crimson, one of which is Shader Cache.
This works by storing the compiled shaders needed for the game on the hard drive. Normally these shaders are compiled on the fly, which can lead to pauses in open world games as you move around the map, as well as other micro-stutters and generally longer game and level loading times. Shader Cache aims to reduce all these issues.
Enabled by default it will take at least one run of each game for the cache to be filled and any benefits to be realised but thereafter the game and levels should load quicker, plus there should be reduced stutter from CPU overhead and from “map hitching”.
However, in my testing I didn’t notice any difference in game and level loading times using Battlefield 4. By its nature this isn’t the easiest thing to test, though, as it will vary greatly from game to game and even machine to machine.
However, the feature has been available on Nvidia cards/drivers for a while now and in general there’s a modest but welcome reduction in these issues when the setting is enabled so it’s reasonable to expect the same improvement for AMD cards.
AMD Radeon Software Crimson – Performance
All of which brings us to the question of whether the new AMD driver actually has any core performance improvements, which is arguably the thing users most care about. And the good news is that it indeed does.
Again testing with Battlefield 4 I recorded a bump from 112.8 to 114.3fps (1080p, Ultra) moving from Catalts 15.11 to Radeon Crimson, which although not exactly a huge increase is not to be sniffed at. I also tested with Bioshock Infinite and recorded a boost form 108.3fps to 110.0fps. Again, not huge but it shows the increase is consistent.
AMD has done a good job of overhauling its graphics card driver, largely making it quicker and easier to find settings and providing some performance enhancements too. There’s not enough here to suddenly persuade Nvidia users to go out and buy and AMD card but it should make the lives of existing AMD graphics card users that little bit easier.