||CATALYST 3.9 Driver Report
November 13, 2003 Brandon Bell
Summary: Continuing their commitment to monthly driver releases, last week ATI unveiled its CATALYST 3.9 driver set. Unlike CATALYST 3.8, CATALYST 3.9 doesnít introduce any new features, but it does bring one promising new capability to the RADEON 9600 XT: OVERDRIVE. Read about the OVERDRIVE clock speeds and our OVERDRIVE experience with the RADEON 9600 XT, and of course, weíve got numbers from the RADEON 8500 all the way up to the RADEON 9800 XT. Read all about it in todayís CATALYST 3.9 driver report!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 11 )|
Last weekís CATALYST 3.9 launch caught us completely by surprise. Sure, we know ATI is now on a monthly release schedule for its drivers, but it still hadnít been 30 days since ATI unveiled CATALYST 3.8, so we figured we were good for at least another week, if not two before CATALYST 3.9 was unveiled. Little did we know that ATI had a different set of plans for 3.8ís immediate follow-up.
In any case, weíre here now to take a look at this new driver, which is significant because it adds OVERDRIVE support to the RADEON 9600 XT. Letís take a look shall we?
Fundamentally, OVERDRIVE itself has not changed since CATALYST 3.8. We still arenít given important information such as clock speeds, memory clock frequency adjustment, and hardware monitoring, all features which ATI has promised to add in a future CATALYST release, and, quite frankly, one ATI board partner, ASUS, provides it its ATI-based graphics cards today. CATALYST 3.9ís OVERDRIVE tab is unchanged from CATALYST 3.8, simply check a setting in the control panel to enable or disable it.
If you recall, OVERDRIVE is a new feature unique to ATIís ďXTĒ line of graphics cards, when enabled, OVERDRIVE dynamically adjusts the core clock frequency of the graphics card depending on temperature. The cooler the core operates, the higher OVERDRIVE will clock the graphics core, but only to a point, 432MHz in the case of the RADEON 9800 XT (20MHz over default), and 527MHz in the case of the RADEON 9600 XT (27MHz over default). The intermediate settings are 419MHz for the RADEON 9800 XT, and 513MHz for the RADEON 9600 XT.
Of course, detractors would argue that OVERDRIVEís supported clock frequencies are fairly mild in comparison to what the hardware is capable of, but it is an intriguing first step nonetheless. We are extremely eager to see how this technology matures. Perhaps at some point ATI will open up OVERDRIVE a little bit more, or, with a quick registry modification, OVERDRIVE clock speeds can be increased even higher (voiding your cardís warranty of course).
Therefore, itís a bit too soon for us to be critical of this new technology, especially since it can be used in conjunction with third-party overclocking tools such as Rage3D Tweak and Powerstrip. And of course, if you donít like the idea of OVERDRIVE at all, you can always disable it.
As cool as the RADEON 9600 XT operates, we figured it would spend all of its time at 527MHz. After all, in our RADEON 9600 XT preview, we were able to overclock the graphics core to a whopping 605MHz (17% over default)! However, even in our open-air testing environment, we found that it wasnít uncommon for OVERDRIVE to reduce the graphics coreís clock frequency to 513MHz after just five minutes of gaming. Fortunately, we never saw OVERDRIVE dip below 513MHz, but weíre sure this probably comes as a disappointment to some of you.
SIDEBAR: CATALYST 3.9 release notes
| Bug report||Page:: ( 2 / 11 )|
After installing CATALYST 3.9, ALL-IN-WONDER users were unable to play or even launch OpenGL applications, instead they would get the error message ďOpenGL could not initializeĒ. This affected all OpenGL applications, including games such as Quake 3 and any game based on that engine. Fortunately, ATI has responded quickly to this problem, releasing a hotfix earlier this week. All ALL-IN-WONDER users will definitely want to download and install this.
The other big issue everyone has been discussing involving CATALYST 3.9 has been Infinity Ward/Activisionís brand new WW2 shooter, Call of Duty. This is an incredibly enjoyable game that already has a large following, and, in this Editorís opinion, easily outshines EAís Medal of Honor series. Unfortunately, ATI users have been having nothing but problems with this game. Up until now we havenít been reporting on it, as Call of Duty was merely a demo based on an unreleased game -- it simply wasnít fair to criticize ATIís driver team for a game that wasnít available, but now that the game is out on store shelves it has become a problem that must be reported on.
Unfortunately, stability with CATALYST 3.9 and Call of Duty is iffy, just like CATALYST 3.8. Some users donít encounter problems until the car chase level, but we found that problems can crop up as early as early as Dawnville. With CATALYST 3.8, we were able to resolve these issues by disabling fast writes and keeping AA to 2X, any setting higher and stability could become compromised.
Fortunately we could run 4X AA just fine with CATALYST 3.9, but fast writes still had to be disabled for optimal reliability. This can be accomplished in your motherboardís BIOS, or via the SMARTGART tab in the CATALYST control panel. Disabling fast writes doesnít bring a noticeable performance hit, so itís certainly a better solution than rebooting your computer every ten minutes. This is still a setback that needs to get fixed however.
The issues weíve reported on with IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles have not gone away; texture thrashing is rampant while playing. This can get pretty distracting after awhile. In addition, menu corruption in Battlefied 1942 is still a problem with CATALYST 3.9.
Both of these problems were introduced by CATALYST 3.8, so we hope that the CATALYST team can resolve them quickly in an upcoming driver release.
SIDEBAR: How in the world was K-Martís ďblockĒ of Tim Duncan a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight last night? The replay clearly shows he got away with goaltending.
| Test Systems||Page:: ( 3 / 11 )|
Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz
ASUS P4C800 Deluxe
512MB OCZ EL PC3200 (DDR400) SDRAM
ATI RADEON 9800 XT Ė 256MB
ATI RADEON 9800 PRO Ė 128MB
ATI RADEON 9700 PRO
ATI RADEON 9600 PRO
ATI RADEON 9600 XT
ATI RADEON 9500 PRO
Sapphire RADEON 9500
ATI RADEON 8500
Driver version CATALYST 3.9
Driver version CATALYST 3.8
30GB IBM Deskstar DTLA 307030 ATA/100 Hard Drive
Windows XP Professional
NASCAR Racing 2003 Season (Bristol custom demo)
Quake III: Arena version 1.32 (fscrusher demo)
Unreal Tournament 2003 (T2 custom demo)
IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles (The Black Death track)
Splinter Cell (FS custom demo)
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness (paris demo)
SIDEBAR: ATI recently changed its company logo. The new look is more angular, and while I donít like the way it looks on the website it actually doesnít look that bad on the new boxes.
| NASCAR Racing 2003 Season||Page:: ( 4 / 11 )|
Nascar 2003 Ė Direct3D
Frame rates remain unchanged in Papyrusí final NASCAR racing sim, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. Of course, frame rates really havenít changed much at all since we started benchmarking with this sim a few months ago, but it does have a loyal following of gamers online.
SIDEBAR: With Need for Speed: Underground going gold recently, weíd like to add it to the test suite if possible.
| IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles||Page:: ( 5 / 11 )|
IL-2 Sturmovik: FB - OpenGL
Performance of both XT cards gained slightly in IL-2 Sturmovik: Forgotten Battles at 800x600x32, but with the increase of only 1 fps, it still falls within the margin of error and wouldnít be noticed by the end user. With their demanding physics models, sims tend to stress platform performance more than graphics, so they arenít the best graphics test, but useful nonetheless.
SIDEBAR: Another title that just went gold is Lock On: Modern Air Combat, weíre really looking forward to this one.
| Quake III 4xAA 8xAF||Page:: ( 6 / 11 )|
Quake III - OpenGL
We actually saw a slight performance decrease in Quake 3 with CATALYST 3.9, at 800x600 although it isnít a significant drop. This is pretty much across the board with the high-end cards. Fortunately, at the higher resolutions performance stabilizes with the net effect being no performance improvements.
SIDEBAR: Does anyone know how to disable sound in Call of Duty? The console command from Quake 3 doesnít work
| Unreal Tournament 2003||Page:: ( 7 / 11 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Ė Direct3D
Nothing really changes with UT 2003, once again we see a slight drop at low resolutions for some cards, but nothing to really be concerned about. So far weíve yet to see any tangible performance benefits, but of course, ATI always stated that CATALYST 3.9 was built to address stability rather than performance.
SIDEBAR: ATIís auction madness wraps up in five days! Several FS readers have scored ALL-IN-WONDER 9700 PRO cards for under $200, so you better get in there before all the goodies are gone.
| Splinter Cell||Page:: ( 8 / 11 )|
Splinter Cell Ė Direct3D
SIDEBAR: Iíve already recorded 25 demos in Call of Duty deatmatch, expect to see benchmarks soon.
| Tomb Raider||Page:: ( 9 / 11 )|
Tomb Raider Ė Direct3D
Even with a newer DX9 title like Tomb Raider we see no performance differences between CATALYST 3.8 and CATALYST 3.9.
SIDEBAR: We enabled depth of field for Tomb Raider testing (V49).
| UT 2003 4xAA||Page:: ( 10 / 11 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003
SIDEBAR: Donít forget to check out the new SiteSeeing 2.0 feature.
| Conclusion||Page:: ( 11 / 11 )|
DirectX 8 card owners:
CATALYST 3.8 was the first driver weíve been able to recommend to you in quite awhile, but solely because of the new features ATI added such as VPU Recover. Since CATALYST 3.9 is essentially based on a derivative of CATALYST 3.8, thereís nothing new in these drivers for you.
The interface and menus remain the same, and so does the performance. Therefore, there really isnít a compelling reason to upgrade. CATALYST 3.9 is merely more of the same (including many of the same problems), only with a new name. Considering that drivers can, and sometimes do introduce new problems, we just donít think upgrading to CATALYST 3.9 is worth the risk if everything is currently running fine in your system. However, if you are running into problems with your current setup, it certainly canít hurt to give CATALYST 3.9 a try.
DirectX 9 card owners:
The same advice we gave DirectX 8 owners pretty much applies to DX9 card owners as well: wait and see. CATALYST 3.7 brought the performance enhancements, while CATALYST 3.8 brought new features, so ATI focused on stability and reliability for CATALYST 3.9.
Thereís nothing substantially new or different here, just more of the same. ATI will have another driver available next month, so if youíre satisfied with the reliability of your system and the applications youíre currently using, we see no reason to upgrade.
Thatís the beauty of ATIís driver release schedule, if the latest driver doesnít do anything for you, you only have to wait 30 days for the next release. Sure, it can make things a little confusing if youíre new to the world of driver updates and keeping your system up to date, or if you just donít follow the graphics scene closely, but in theory ATIís monthly release schedule should allow them to be more responsive to any issues that may crop up, or for introducing new performance improvements in general.
Now if the CATALYST team can just get a few of the unresolved issues that have been mentioned fixed in time for Christmas, gamers everywhere will truly have a reason to rejoice. We bet a lot of you plan on getting caught up over the holidays, or will be busy playing upcoming titles such as Lock On: Modern Air Combat, Need for Speed: Underground, or Deux Ex: Invisible War, so now is the perfect time for all compatibility issues to be addressed. And we already know that ATIís hardware is more than capable of delivering outstanding performance.
SIDEBAR: Have you had a chance to try ATIís latest CATALYST driver? Which driver set has worked best for you? Share your thoughts on this topic in the news comments!