Do AMD Drivers Really Deserve Such a Hostile Reception?

by - 3 years ago

Introduction


Do AMD Drivers Really Deserve Such a Hostile Reception?

AMD has a serious image problem with their drivers which stems from buggy, unrefined updates, and a slow release schedule. Even though this perception began many years ago, it’s still impacting on the company’s sales and explains why their market share is so small. The Q4 2015 results from Jon Peddie Research suggests AMD reached a market share of 21.1% while NVIDIA reigned supreme with 78.8%. Although, the Q4 data is more promising because AMD accounted for a mere 18.8% during the last quarter. On the other hand, respected industry journal DigiTimes reports that AMD is likely to reach its lowest ever market position for Q1 2016. Thankfully, the financial results will emerge on April 21st so we should know the full picture relatively soon. Of course, the situation should improve once Polaris and Zen reach retail channels. Most importantly, AMD’s share price has declined by more than 67% in five years from $9 to under $3 as of March 28, 2016. The question is why?

Is the Hardware Competitive?


Do AMD Drivers Really Deserve Such a Hostile Reception?

The current situation is rather baffling considering AMD’s extremely competitive product line-up in the graphics segment. For example, the R9 390 is a superb alternative to NVIDIA’s GTX 970 and features 8GB VRAM which provides extra headroom when using virtual reality equipment. The company’s strategy appears to revolves around minor differences in performance between the R9 390 and 390X. This also applied to the R9 290 and 290X due to both products utilizing the Hawaii core. NVIDIA employs a similar tactic with the GTX 970 and GTX 980 but there’s a marked price increase compared to their rivals.

NVIDIA’s ability to cater towards the lower tier demographic has been quite poor because competing GPUs including the 7850 and R9 380X provided a much better price to performance ratio. Not only that, NVIDIA’s decision to deploy ridiculously low video memory amounts on cards like the GTX 960 has the potential to cause headaches in the future. It’s important to remember that the GTX 960 can be acquired with either 2GB or 4GB of video memory. Honestly, they should have simplified the process and produced the higher memory model in a similar fashion to the R9 380X. Once again, AMD continues to offer a very generous amount of VRAM across various product tiers.

Part of the problem revolves around AMD’s sluggish release cycle and reliance on the Graphics Core Next (GCN) 1.1 architecture. This was first introduced way back in 2013 with the Radeon HD 7790. Despite its age, AMD deployed the GCN 1.1 architecture on their revised 390 series and didn’t do themselves any favours when denying accusations about the new line-up being a basic re-branding exercise. Of course, this proved to be the case and some users managed to flash their 290/290X to a 390/390X with a BIOS update. There’s nothing inherently wrong with product rebrands if they can remain competitive in the current market. It’s not exclusive to AMD, and NVIDIA have used similar business strategies on numerous occasions. However, I feel it’s up to AMD to push graphics technology forward and encourage their nearest rival to launch more powerful options.

Another criticism regarding AMD hardware which seems to plague everything they release is the perception that every GPU runs extremely hot. You only have to look on certain websites, social media and various forums to see this is the main source of people’s frustration. Some individuals are even known to produce images showing AMD graphics cards setting ablaze. So is there any truth to these suggestions? Unfortunately, the answer is yes and a pertinent example comes from the R9 290 range. The 290/290X reference models utilized one of the most inefficient cooler designs I’ve ever seen and struggled to keep the GPU core running below 95C under load.

Unbelievably, the core was designed to run at these high thermals and AMD created a more progressive RPM curve to reduce noise. As a result, the GPU could take 10-15 minutes to reach idle temperature levels. The Hawaii temperatures really impacted on the company’s reputation and forged a viewpoint among consumers which I highly doubt will ever disappear. It’s a shame because the upcoming Polaris architecture built on the 14nm FinFET process should exhibit significant efficiency gains and end the concept of high thermals on AMD products. There’s also the idea that AMD GPUs have a noticeably higher TDP than their NVIDIA counterparts. For instance, the R9 390 has a TDP of 275 watts while the GTX 970 only consumes 145 watts. On the other hand, the Fury X utilizes 250 watts compared to the GTX 980Ti’s rating of 275 watts.

Eventually, AMD released a brand new range of graphics cards utilizing the first iteration of high bandwidth memory. Prior to its release, expectations were high and many people expected the Fury X to dethrone NVIDIA’s flagship graphics card. Unfortunately, this didn’t come to fruition and the Fury X fell behind in various benchmarks, although it fared better at high resolutions. The GPU also encountered supply problems and emitted a large whine from the pump on early samples. Asetek even threatened to sue Cooler Master who created the AIO design which could force all Fury X products to be removed from sale.

The rankings alter rather dramatically when the DirectX 12 render is used which suggests AMD products have a clear advantage. Asynchronous Compute is the hot topic right now which in theory allows for greater GPU utilization in supported games. Ashes of the Singularity has implemented this for some time and makes for some very interesting findings. Currently, we’re working on a performance analysis for the game, but I can reveal that there is a huge boost for AMD cards when moving from DirectX11 to DirectX12. Furthermore, there are reports indicating that Pascal might not be able to use asynchronous shaders which makes Polaris and Fiji products more appealing.

Do AMD GPUs Lack Essential Hardware Features?


Freesync

When selecting graphics hardware, it’s not always about pure performance and some consumers take into account exclusive technologies including TressFX hair before purchasing. At this time, AMD incorporates with their latest products LiquidVR, FreeSync, Vulkan support, HD3D, Frame rate target control, TrueAudio, Virtual Super resolution and more! This is a great selection of hardware features to create a thoroughly enjoyable user-experience. NVIDIA adopts a more secretive attitude towards their own creations and often uses proprietary solutions. The Maxwell architecture has support for Voxel Global Illumination, (VGXI), Multi Frame Sampled Anti-Aliasing (MFAA), Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR), VR Direct and G-Sync. There’s a huge debate about the benefits of G-Sync compared to FreeSync especially when you take into account the pricing difference when opting for a new monitor. Overall, I’d argue that the NVIDIA package is better but there’s nothing really lacking from AMD in this department.

Have The Drivers Improved?


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Historically, AMD drivers haven’t been anywhere close to NVIDIA in terms of stability and providing a pleasant user-interface. Back in the old days, AMD or even ATI if we’re going way back, had the potential to cause system lock-ups, software errors and more. A few years ago, I had the misfortune of updating a 7850 to the latest driver and after rebooting, the system’s boot order was corrupt. To be fair, this could be coincidental and have nothing to do with that particular update. On another note, the 290 series was plagued with hardware bugs causing black screens and blue screens of death whilst watching flash videos. To resolve this, you had to disable hardware acceleration and hope that the issues subsided.

The Catalyst Control Center always felt a bit primitive for my tastes although it did implement some neat features such as graphics card overclocking. While it’s easy enough to download a third-party program like MSI Afterburner, some users might prefer to install fewer programs and use the official driver instead.

Not so long ago, AMD appeared to have stalled in releasing drivers for the latest games to properly optimize graphics hardware. On the 9th December 2014, AMD unveiled the Catalyst 14.12 Omega WHQL driver and made it ready for download. In a move which still astounds me, the company decided not to release another WHQL driver for 6 months! Granted, they were working on a huge driver redesign and still produced the odd Beta update. I honestly believe this was very damaging and prevented high-end users from considering the 295×2 or a Crossfire configuration. It’s so important to have a consistent, solid software framework behind the hardware to allow for constant improvements. This is especially the case when using multiple cards which require profiles to achieve proficient GPU scaling.

Crimson’s release was a major turning point for AMD due to the modernized interface and enhanced stability. According to AMD, the software package involves 25 percent more manual test cases and 100 percent more automated test cases compared to AMD Catalyst Omega. Also, the most requested bugs were resolved and they’re using community feedback to quickly apply new fixes. The company hired a dedicated team to reproduce errors which is the first step to providing a more stable experience. Crimson apparently loads ten times faster than its predecessor and includes a new game manager to optimize settings to suit your hardware. It’s possible to set custom resolutions including the refresh rate, which is handy when overclocking your monitor. The clean uninstall utility proactively works to remove any remaining elements of a previous installation such as registry entries, audio files and much more. Honestly, this is such a revolutionary move forward and AMD deserves credit for tackling their weakest elements head on. If you’d like to learn more about Crimson’s functionality, please visit this page.

However, it’s far from perfect and some users initially experienced worse performance with this update. Of course, there’s going to be teething problems whenever a new release occurs but it’s essential for AMD to do everything they can to forge a new reputation about their drivers. Some of you might remember, the furore surrounding the Crimson fan bug which limited the GPU’s fans to 20 percent. Some users even reported that this caused their GPU to overheat and fail. Thankfully, AMD released a fix for this issue but it shouldn’t have occurred in the first place. Once again, it’s hurting their reputation and ability to move on from old preconceptions.

Is GeForce Experience Significantly Better?


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In recent times, NVIDIA drivers have been the source of some negative publicity. More specifically, users were advised to ignore the 364.47 WHQL driver and instructed to download the 364.51 beta instead. One user said:

“Driver crashed my windows and going into safe mode I was not able to uninstall and rolling back windows would not work either. I ended up wiping my system to a fresh install of windows. Not very happy here.”

NVIDIA’s Sean Pelletier released a statement at the time which reads:

“An installation issue was found within the 364.47 WHQL driver we posted Monday. That issue was resolved with a new driver (364.51) launched Tuesday. Since we were not able to get WHQL-certification right away, we posted the driver as a Beta.

GeForce Experience has an option to either show WHQL-only drivers or to show all drivers (including Beta). Since 364.51 is currently a Beta, gamers who have GeForce Experience configured to only show WHQL Game Ready drivers will not currently see 364.51

We are expecting the WHQL-certified package for the 364.51 Game Ready driver within the next 24hrs and will replace the Beta version with the WHQL version accordingly. As expected, the WHQL-certified version of 364.51 will show up for all gamers with GeForce Experience.”

As you can see, NVIDIA isn’t immune to driver delivery issues and this was a fairly embarrassing situation. Despite this, it didn’t appear to have a serious effect on people’s confidence in the company or make them re-consider their views of AMD. While there are some disgruntled NVIDIA customers, they’re fairly loyal and distrustful of AMD’s ability to offer better drivers. The GeForce Experience software contains a wide range of fantastic inclusions such as ShadowPlay, GameStream, Game Optimization and more. After a driver update, the software can feel a bit unresponsive and takes some time to close. Furthermore, some people dislike the notion of GameReady drivers being locked in the GeForce Experience Software.  If a report from PC World is correct, consumers might have to supply an e-mail address just to update their drivers through the application.

Before coming to a conclusion, I want to reiterate that my allegiances don’t lie with either company and the intention was to create a balanced viewpoint. I believe AMD’s previous failures are impacting on the company’s current product range and it’s extremely difficult to shift people’s perceptions about the company’s drivers. While Crimson is much better than CCC, it’s been the main cause of a horrendous fan bug resulting in a PR disaster for AMD.

On balance, it’s clear AMD’s decision to separate the Radeon group and CPU line was the right thing to do. Also, with Polaris around the corner and more games utilizing DirectX 12, AMD could improve their market share by an exponential amount. Although, from my experience, many users are prepared to deal with slightly worse performance just to invest in an NVIDIA product. Therefore, AMD has to encourage long-term NVIDIA fans to switch with reliable driver updates on a consistent basis. AMD products are not lacking in features or power, it’s all about drivers! NVIDIA will always counteract AMD releases with products exhibiting similar performance numbers. In my personal opinion, AMD drivers are now on par with NVIDIA and it’s a shame that they appear to be receiving unwarranted criticism. Don’t get me wrong, the fan bug is simply inexcusable and going to haunt AMD for some time. I predict that despite the company’s best efforts, the stereotypical view of AMD drivers will not subside. This is a crying shame because they are trying to improve things and release updates on a significantly lower budget than their rivals.

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8 Comments on Do AMD Drivers Really Deserve Such a Hostile Reception?

  • 12John34 says:

    Nvidia creates graphics card with a sorter expiring date. The problem with GTX 960 is not the 2GBs of memory, but the narrow bus of only 128bits(color compression can’t do miracles here). 970’s kill switch is those 0.5 slow GBs and users of that card should be thankful that flaw gone public.

    AMD’s problem is the tech press. Take for example this article. The article’s title already creates a negative perspective towards AMD. Reading a few paragraphs down I am reading the same stupidity I read all over the place. AMD cards are hot, catch fire and explode. Not to mention that a reference design from 2013 is brought back to life and is mentioned as a recent example. I stopped reading there. Why read a biased Nvidia favoring article that tries to pass as an objective editorial? Should I hope to see any mentioning about Nvidia’s recent driver problems? Well a quick look in the last part of the article it shows that the author is much more calm and polity towards a case where drivers have been pulled of the site for being a disaster. WHQL Nvidia drivers after version 362 are a disaster, the company removes a version of them from it’s site, many people avoid installing newer Nvidia drivers out of fear that problem haven’t fixed yet and the author says that almost none was affected.

    So what do we have here? Just an Nvidia fanboy that wants Nvidia hardware with AMD’s performance and specs creating an editorial full of hypocrisy.

    Just My Opinion.

    • John Williamson says:

      The article’s title is highlighting the question if AMD deserves the negative perception that other people make. When I discuss the overheating, and power consumption, I’m simply relaying the viewpoint a large number of hardware enthusiasts have, and I even disprove the notion by mentioning Polaris and the Fury X’s TDP. Please understand that I have no allegiance to either company, the article was designed to understand why people perceive AMD drivers in such a negative way. Try to find reasons, and disclose common complains. I also go into the recent problems with NVIDIA products. Honestly, I’m surprised by these remarks. I praised AMD’s hardware, their Crimson drivers, the features, the affordability, and even suggested that the current viewpoint is unfair.

      • 12John34 says:

        I guess people who are subjective to that negative approach towards AMD that it is cultivated all those last 15 years -and in graphics cards the last decade, especially those last 2-3 years- I am reading tech news, they don’t even understand when they write a negative editorial.

        The title creates a reality where AMD’s drivers are hatted. I mean from the title you come to a quick conclusion that people hate AMD’s drivers. In how many different ways should I write this? It doesn’t matter if you add a question mark in the end. It’s a done deal. People hate AMD drivers. Period. An image that you enhance with the market share numbers in the FIRST paragraph.

        Then you do some quick comparisons, where I don’t agree completely(that bus I mentioned earlier), only to express your objections on how Nvidia treats the low-mid market. That doesn’t change AMD’s image, only expresses what I feel is your frustration because Nvidia doesn’t offer you a good VFM low-mid range solution, with plenty of VRAM. Well GTX 950 is pretty nice to be honest, at it’s MSRP of $149, even with only 2GBs, a better option than 7850(or maybe we should say 370).

        The next few paragraphs of this editorial only make things worst. Paradigms are brought back to life to justify not a hatred towards AMD drivers, but justify hatred against AMD hardware in general. Exaggerations about cards couching fire, or people being upset about AMD’s reference 290/X coolers when three months latter the market was full of third party solutions, or the whining case where it affected only the few first cards and was addressed in less than 15 days is also mentioned as something important. Of course no paradigms from Nvidia are brought in this editorial, which makes Nvidia’s image look flawless. OK they didn’t offered GTX 960 with only 4GBs from the beginning. Wow, that destroyed their image.

        By now the reader has already come to the conclusion that all this negativity towards AMD is justified. But let’s try to balance things a little. So let’s talk about HOPES of DX12 changing things for AMD to the not so bad. Does this change the negative image we already established? I don’t think so. The author probably understood that this editorial was going the wrong direction, so he thought it was about time to write something that will look positive.

        After establishing that AMD is the devil, let’s FINALLY see the drivers. Let’s start with a little history. AMD’s drivers where NEVER anywhere close to Nvidia. LOL, OK. Here we go again. Do I really have to read more. OK let’s see. Negative experiences, bad and primitive interface, no WHQL drivers for 6 months. Oh nice. But wait. What am I reading? Positive comments for Crimson? Maybe I was wrong. However, worst performance, teething problems, fan bug, overheated and failed GPUs. I almost worried here, that this would end as a positive part of this editorial. Nope. Just Crismon’s reputation DOA.

        But we haven’t talked about Nvidia, have we? No examples of their re branding, just a quick citation(GT730 is my favorite example), no GTX570 burning thanks to bad driver, no GTX 970 3.5+0.5 mentioning, no mentioning of disabling features when competitor’s hardware is in the system, no mentioning on pushing closed proprietary libraries, no mentioning on last years Chrome browser bugs, no mentioning on multi monitor high power consumption when idle, and as for the latest problems? Just a little negative publicity, no hatred, nothing to scream about, just ignore a few drivers and everything will be fine. Evan “some disgruntled NVIDIA customers” will better throw them selves of a cliff, than believing that AMD will offer better drivers. LOL.

        As I said, hypocrisy, or just someone who can’t realize how much one sided is his “objective” editorial. This is the most negative piece of editorial for AMD I have read the last year, after that TPU editorial about the lack of WHQL drivers that was even making assumption about AMD’s survival.

        • ozan4550 says:

          I cant agree more with this. Nvidia screws over everyone in the industry consumers and competitors alike. Their cards are obsoleted instantly. They create so many closed source crap. Far cry 4 the nvidia pcss supposedly caused less fps loss than the high setting according to their site. Turns out disabling itin favor of high, I get double the framerate. Double. I am not kidding. This is on a 980. Amd cards do very well for the money and age much better. Nvidia cards cant handle high loads. Add in some msaa and you get insane input lag. This does not happen in amd. You lose framerate alike but you dont lose half the responsiveness. I’d take an “flammable” amd over nvcrap anyday.

    • John Williamson says:

      I didn’t say no-one was affected, you’re misinterpreting the article once again, I state, “Despite this, it didn’t appear to have a serious effect on people’s confidence in the company or make them re-consider their views of AMD. While there are some disgruntled NVIDIA customers, they’re fairly loyal and distrustful of AMD’s ability to offer better drivers.” This isn’t me defending NVIDIA, I’m discussing the notion that their driver issues are unlikely to make people switch to AMD hardware in the future and their user base is quite forgiving. This isn’t how I feel about NVIDIA, they should be held to the same standards and criticized for any driver complications. The article is looking into why AMD get so much negative hate and the perception of poor drivers appears to stay. Saying I’m an NVIDIA fanboy when I’m entrusted to review products from both sides is pretty laughable I’m afraid and I honestly believe I was fair, and balanced throughout. Of course, your opinion may differ.

  • Nvidia must gave these guys some money for this…honestly..
    AMD the 7 heads monster…

    • John Williamson says:

      Yes, of course… paid by NVIDIA to criticize GeForce Experience, their low-mid tier range, mention how good AMD’s price to performance ratio is, the improvements in Crimson, the unfair perceptions that AMD products have.

  • ozan4550 says:

    Oh wow somebody’s getting a free nvidia sample. I havent read anything so one sided you either are doing it maliciously or dont know enough about the matter. Nvidia has 3 times more bad things than what is written on this text to account for. Amd has no more. You are bashing on amd reference cards. Bcuz nvidia reference cards do oh so well. Thanks to best nv drivers i can eject my 980. I always wanted to eject my graphics card. Best drivers. The FANTASTIC gamestream screws up framerate when you are not actually using it. The AMAZING shadowplay has gone bad and buggy. The SUPERB geforce experience is so slow i cant use it. That crappy program is running on a nvme samsung 950 ssd on a 4.7 ghz i7. And its bad, just bad. I suggest you read up on some stuff before writing about it. Be fair. You can bash amd on their rebrands all day long. Sure. But they keep up with your almighty nv against all your badmouthing, against nv gameworks closed source sabotaging, and do that with those “meh” rebrands. They havent released a crappy whql driver since forever. Dont be evil.

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