AMD and Nvidia both talk fairly big when it comes to driver updates. With every driver iteration that is released we hear the usual technical (or should that be marketing?) talk about improved performance in this, that and the other. After a lot of thinking I decided I wanted to investigate further. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much progress AMD and Nvidia actually make with their drivers over the duration of a product’s life cycle? We’ll be starting this two piece series with AMD and in particular I want to look at the last two flagship single GPUs of each generation. I’ll be putting the XFX AMD HD 7970 Double Dissipation 3GB graphics card on the test bench along with the XFX AMD R9 290X Double Dissipation 4GB graphics card: that’s the flagship single GPUs of the HD 7000 and R9 2xx series. I will be benchmarking both graphics cards on an identical test system at stock clocks under two different scenarios. Scenario 1 is using the AMD driver package that they launched with and scenario 2 is using the most recent AMD driver package made available. In this way we are able to see the driver progress that AMD’s HD 7970 and R9 290X have made since they were both launched.
AMD’s HD 7970 was launched on December 22nd 2011 and used AMD Catalyst driver package version 11.12 RC11, this was a special beta driver release for the AMD HD 7970 as official support wasn’t added until Catalyst 12.2 WHQL was released. AMD’s R9 290X launched on October 24th 2013 and used AMD Catalyst driver package version 13.11 Beta 6. The most recent driver package release from AMD (at the time of writing this article) is Catalyst 14.7 RC1. Of course AMD’s HD 7970 has had a significant amount more time on the market, nearly 3 years, whereas the R9 290X has had less than 1 year. It is also worth noting both the R9 290X and HD 7970 are built on virtually identically 28nm GCN architecture so many of the largest optimisations had already been made for the GCN architecture before the R9 290X was even released. That’s a long-winded way of saying we will see dramatically more progress with the HD 7970 than the R9 290X. However, either way it will be really interesting to see what the results show, so let’s get on with some testing!