Life in the driver development department of ATI must be pretty hectic, as the CATALYST driver team has provided a plethora of driver updates since their initial inception nearly a year ago. As a result of their efforts ATI was first to market with DirectX 9 drivers, in fact the CATALYST 3.0 driver release was delivered the same day as Microsoft’s DirectX 9.0 API. We found these drivers brought tremendous performance gains to RADEON 9500 users, offering double the performance in some cases. The CATALYST team then followed the initial DX9 driver release with their 3.1 driver, which also came with some performance enhancements.
So when ATI announced the RADEON 9800, 9600, and 9200 family of graphics processors earlier this month, we half expected that the CATALYST team was hard at work on those products, then we got the surprising news of CATALYST 3.2, just a week after ATI’s Game Developer’s Conference launch event in San Jose. Could they have developed a new top to bottom driver solution that quickly?
It turns out that these drivers aren’t quite the drivers we were expecting (the 3.2 driver was submitted for WHQL certification back in February), but this driver does offer official support for the RADEON 9800 PRO. In a sign of the CATALYST team’s dedication however, hints have been dropped that the upcoming CATALYST 3.3 driver will offer substantial performance gains for existing RADEON 9700 users. We’ll just have to wait and see if those reports hold true, today we’re here to evaluate CATALYST 3.2.
One quick glance over the release notes and you’ll see the emphasis ATI has placed on resolving compatibility issues with this driver release. Thankfully we can report that the 3.2 driver is the most solid 3.x driver release we’ve come across. For instance, the stability issues we’ve had with the RADEON 8500 and RADEON 9000 in Jedi Knight II (while operating in high quality mode) are gone. We were able to run our complete suite of tests (and then some) with this combination without a single hitch. Something we haven’t been able to say since CATALYST 2.5 last year.
Also, the hanger quirks we encountered with the RADEON 9500 family and Comanche 4 in DX9 are gone and the CATALYST team has fixed the stuttering issues with onscreen text (Freelancer is a popular example), so we’re glad to see those bugs were squashed quickly.
Unfortunately however, one new issue that has cropped up is with Half-Life engine games and OpenGL. Dropping the console or pressing “Esc” to return to the main menu causes the system to hang, requiring a complete reboot. This also affects the mods such as Counter-Strike (the most popular game online), Team Fortress Classic, Natural Selection, and Day of Defeat (among others), so this is a pretty important issue that needs to be resolved quickly.
But what kind of performance enhancements should we expect from these new drivers? Lets dig through the benchmarks to find out!