Catalyst [5.6] For Change

ATI's latest reference drivers introduce some major additions as well as reference support for mobile chipsets. We think it would've been worthy of the name 6.0.

There used to be a real excitement when the latest drivers came out in the first years of 3D PC graphics cards. I can remember when my 3dfx Voodoo got an update there would be a noticeable improvement in features and fps. Sadly, this seemed to have dropped off in recent times with the changes being more incremental, but ATI has just brought us back to the good ole days.


With version 5.6 of its well known Catalyst drivers a whole range of improvements and innovations are on show. For a start, a big sigh of relief can be heard from mobile graphics cards owners with the news that ATI is finally going to support its notebook chips with reference drivers. “Catalyst Mobility” will initially support the Mobility Radeon X700 and X800, but an extensive product list is expected to be built up over coming months.

Next video control gets a revamp as Catalyst 5.6 enables on-the-fly adjustment to video quality with a real-time video preview. A wizard for automatic set-up is available to novice users, while enthusiasts can now twiddle with features like de-interlacing, hue and gamma and get instant feedback until their heart’s content.

In addition, a new simplified connection wizard for plug-and-play HDTV connectivity has been introduced, and ATI also promises noticeably improved video playback efficiency with the addition of WMV9 acceleration.


Finally, rounding off a significant package are some real fps speed improvements (see above). Games such as Halo, Chronicles of Riddick and Doom 3 get between seven and 12 per cent speed boosts with the new drivers, while Call of Duty rises by roughly five per cent. Interestingly a title called “Lock On: Modern Air Combat” (of which I have no experience) jumps a massive 50 per cent, but we can only assume it was not fully optimised first time around.

Given the importance of this release, I took time to speak with Terry Makedon, the head of ATI’s driver programme, who was understandably in a buoyant mood. Naturally enough, he started with the very welcome mobile support. “For a very long time I wanted to address the frustrations of Mobility users,” he said, “and I felt that laptop users should benefit from the hard work we do on the desktop side. As such, we introduced Catalyst Mobility and included vendors that wanted to be part of the programme (including Alienware, Arima, Clevo, Eurocom, Falcon Northwest, Mitac, rockdirect, Uniwill and Voodoo PC).” He said hopes were high that this pool of developers will increase in coming months and it is almost inevitable that it will and reminded us that the mobile drivers will “be updated in synch with the desktop drivers”.


Moving onto video functionality, he explained the new improvements were the result of “a shift we are noticing in home PC usage. People are far more interested in exploring the video capabilities of their graphics cards, and we are seeing more requests for video functionality.” Looking to the future, he teased, “We are also working on more video features that will be more than just CCC controls. We are working on software that will give video users some cool value-add functionality”.

He finished off with a request straight to you guys, admitting: “We love to hear users’ feedback on these (and all drivers). Please remind your readers if they have something to tell us directly, to use the Catalyst Crew reporting mechanism, and submit us their thoughts. It can be bug reports, feature requests or even kudos!” You just did it for us Terry 🙂

Feeling the need a get a little “Points of View-ish”, the link for Catalyst Crew is here, then click on “Feedback” on the right.

So a driver update actually worth downloading for a change, wonders never cease and just as soon as ATI gets around to supporting my Radeon Mobility 9700 (hint, hint) all will be good in the world. You can grab the new Catalyst 5.6 drivers here.


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