No matter what operating system you use these days you will find that you need drivers, and with more complex hardware you will find that the more complex driver you need to run it. Taking a simple device like a webcam for instance that requires drivers; but most of the settings are down to the application itself. Graphics cards however, rely a little bit more on the drivers themselves to function, and with technology moving at such a fast pace constant driver updates are needed to get the best possible results from the chosen hardware.
Generally when we think drivers we purely think of something to enable a component to work, couple that with an application which is where we generally see settings and can make any alterations that we need to. With graphics card drivers it’s normally an all in one package and drivers for AMD Radeon graphics products are no different, with an all in one software suite that gives us the functionality of the drivers with the flexibility to alter them dependent on our system and the user needs.
What is Catalyst?
AMD Catalyst is AMD’s software suite for their range of AMD Radeon graphics products which includes desktop, notebook and chipset platforms on a variety of operating systems including Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Linux.
Catalyst is made up from 3 major components including the control center, unified display driver and OpenCL driver all wrapped up in one software package from AMD.
According to AMD, the Catalyst drivers have been downloaded more than 50 million times in 2010 and with more frequent updates, improved features and performance, we can only suspect that this number will grow for 2011.
Catalyst is split into 3 segments to give the user a breakdown of what the software suite can give them. These are stability, performance and innovation.
Stability means the drivers are certified by Microsoft and go through their brutal screening process whilst still giving monthly improvements on performance with the ability to add new features and enhancements to their already award-winning software.
Stability is something very important to AMD and is implemented into Catalyst with the most vigorous testing through and independant 3rd party performing stability runs with AMD’s direct competitor; Nvidia.
The 3rd party test the drivers under extreme conditions to give the best stability in a clear cut comparison between the two graphics giants.
Throughout these tests, AMD passed with a 100% success rate, whilst the green team only managed to score 85% stability. This is something that AMD are very proud of, and try to maintain in all future releases as a tried and tested method.
What would a graphics product be without performance, not just over the competitor but also over it’s older generation drivers when looking at comparisons. It would be foolish of course if a manufacturer was to update their drivers without fixing any bugs or increasing performance.
AMD are devoted to fixing bugs but also try to offer as much performance as they can as they update their catalyst suite. Just taking a look at the differences between 9.10 and 10.10 on users with a Radeon HD 5800 series graphics card. They managed to see up to a whopping 68% performance increase in Resident Evil 5. Other performance increases included the graphics intense Metro 2033 with huge 48% performance increase between the drivers. Even some of the newest titles on the market managed to gain a performance increase such as Aliens vs Predator by a satisfying 13%.
Another part of AMD’s Catalyst suite is their Ccatalyst Application Profiles (CAP) which is released every week to give the best compatibility and performance for your setup. Users with multiple graphics card configurations and users taking advantage of AMD’s 3D settings such as Anti-Aliasing will get a lot of benefits from this. This differs slightly as no driver update is required and latest versions include all previous application profiles.
Other performance increases include the DivX Plus codec pack for Radeon HD 6860 and 6900 series graphics cards. This will ultimately give the user and improved video experience as well as improved operation and the ability to perform on the lower end systems by lowering the CPU load, reducing noise and appealing more to entry-level CPUs.
AMD catalyst also supports OpenGL 4.1 giving improved performance when it comes to rendering 2-D and 3-D computer graphics on a cross-platform API.
With technology moving faster than ever before, it’s only right that the software moves at the same pace.
Over the years the catalyst control Centre has gone from being a simple UI to having a graphical UI, and now with Windows 7 becoming more a more mainstream it’s only fitting that the software become simpler and more user-friendly.
To do this AMD have given the choice of two views; one for the basic user and one for more advanced users. The software will also dynamically update features based on the available hardware and by partnering up with infusion (experts in UI design) we should have some style to go with the substance.
Some of the main highlights include a task-based discovery model, search box, navigation bar and also the ability to pin and un-pin your favourite pages. This makes it easy for the enthusiast user to alter settings that appeal to them such as changing anti-aliasing and antistrophic filtering settings whilst benchmarking.
Other features include a quick navigation, one click access to any setting and the ability for presets. One of the major breakthroughs that notebook users will love is the resizeable UI to suit them obscure resolutions especially on netbooks and tablets.
What to expect in the future
The future of Catalyst is something that we will see develop month on month with their frequent updates which is set to give us an improved system for setting up AMD Eyefinity display configurations as well as continuous improvements to the new UI that has been developed in the latest version.
For users wanting to try these out, there is further information below, but be warned that XP users will need to upgrade their operating system to take full advantage of the new style and features of the Catalyst update.