Do AMD Drivers Really Deserve Such a Hostile Reception?

Introduction


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?


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?


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?


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?


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.

AMD Slashes R9 280 & R9 290 Cards

AMD’s R9 290X

AMD have always strived to offer great value for money and their price vs performance ratios have always proven to be a thorn in the side of Nvidia. While Nvidia may be plowing through the industry with a few higher performance cards, AMD are dropping their prices on higher performance products to better compete with Nvidia in their respective price ranges.

While some may say this is AMD trying to keep up, I say “who cares!”, fact is that as a consumer, we’re the ones who win in this graphics card battle and with AMD now dropping the prices of their R9 290 and R9 280 series graphics cards even further, despite the fact they lowered them just last month! It’s never been a better time to buy an AMD card.

The Radeon R9 290X is down from $449 to $399, a far cry from the $549 starting price when the card was launched. The standard Radeon R9 290 is down from its $399 launch price to a very reasonable $299; that’s right, a 290 is now less than $300!

The R9 280X is down to just $270, only $30 short of the 290, but the cards are quite close in terms of performance. One of the best discounts is that the recently launched R9 285 “Tonga” is now down to just $229, putting it within $10 of the GTX 760 price.

There are now a wide range of very high performance cards available for around $300 and with the GeForce GTX 970 available for $329, high-end PC gaming has never been so affordable.

Thank you WCCFTech for providing us with this information.

ASUS Announces 0dB Strix R9 280 and GTX 780 Graphics Cards

ASUS announced their upcoming Strix R9 280 and GTX 780 graphics cards, which are dubbed to be 15% faster, 20% cooler and 3x quieter. The Strix series is also said to expand this year and incorporate other products such as exceptionally agile mice, super-cool gaming graphics cards, boundary-pushing keyboards and awesome gaming headsets.

The Strix ASUS version of the R9 280 and GTX 780 presents DirectCU II technology, giving the user a cooler, quieter and faster performance for high-end action gaming. In addition to the latter, the 0dB-cooling technology allows the graphics cards to offer total silence in gaming sessions.

ASUS DIGI+ voltage regulation modules are also featured on the graphics cards, providing enhanced stability and efficiency while the GPU Tweak feature provides simple overclocking and online streaming.

Both Strix R9 280 and GTX 780 graphics cards present a new exclusive fan design, which is said to be able to allow gamers to enjoy latest titles played in full HD ( 1920 x 1080 ) at environmental temperatures of 65˚C in total silence by stopping the fans. The temperature is then maintained with the help of highly conductive 10mm copper cooling pipes in direct contact with the card’s GPU, along with a heat-sink that delivers a heat-dissipation area which is 220% larger than reference.

In terms of specs, the ASUS Strix R9 280 comes with 3GB of GDDR5 memory and a 384-bit memory interface, having the GPU clocked at 980 MHz and memory clocked at 5200 MHz. Looking at the output ports, the graphics card presents one DVI-D, one DVI-I, one HDMI and one Display Port.

The ASUS Strix GTX 780 however features 6GB of GDDR5 memory and a 384-bit memory interface, having the GPU clocked at 889 MHz base and can go up to 941 MHz when boosted while the memory is clocked at 6008 MHz. In terms of connectivity, the output ports seem to be similar to the R9 280, having one DVI-D, one DVI-I, one HDMI and one Display Port.

No confirmed release date and price has been announced for the two graphics cards, but more details can be found on ASUS’ official website.

Thank you VideoCardz for providing us with this information

Images courtesy of VideoCardz

New AMD Never Settle Forever Gaming Bundle Launching Next Week

AMD have had massive success from their Never Settle bundles, offering gamers a huge saving on their graphics cards by bundling many of today’s top gaming titles. Of course some of those games are getting a little older now, but that’s spurred AMD to go back to the drawing board and make a few tweaks to their playlist, and they’ll be relaunching the revised bundle on the 21st of this month.

The bundle will be divided over three tiers, those who buy a R9 295X2, R9 290(x) or R9 280(x) will be entitled to pick three games, R9 270(x) and R7 260 purchasers can pick two games and finally R5 250 and R7 240 will allow you one title from the list. The keys that are bundled with the cards can be activated up until August 2014.

The latest title to the list will be Murdered: Soul Suspect, which is not yet released, but will pre-activate for download in June and you’ll also not the addition of 4 indie games which will be available in packs of two (of your choosing).

The rest is pretty much the same, so you can still expect the big hitters such as Tomb Raider and Hitman, but BioShock, Crysis and Far Cry are unfortunately gone in favour of Thief, which now supports both AMD TrueAudio and Mantle.

Check out the list below for full details and thank you VideoCardz.com for providing us with this chart.

Thank you VideoCardz for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of VideoCardz.

New Gigabyte Radeon R9 280 WindForce OC Graphics Card Revealed

Gigabyte have blown the lid off their new Radeon R9 280 graphics card, adding further still to their already exciting range of Radeon based products. While I’m sure many of our readers would love to invest in something like the 290X, in reality we don’t all have the budget or need of such things. Most consumers will target the price vs performance battleground that is mid-to-high level performance cards.

The Gigabytes new R9 280 WindForce OS is based on a similar design to that of the R9 280X WindForce series of cards, making good use of Gigabytes custom PCB and powerful WindForce 3x cooling system. This custom PCB brings a lot of tweaks and upgrades such as low-pitched noise ferrite core chokes, a large aluminium finned heatsink, Ultra Durable VGA construction and a mild factory overclock. The GPU core has been set at 950 MHz with a 1072 MHz boost, not bad when compared to the 850 / 933 Mhz of the reference card. The GDDR5 memory has been left at a stock speed of 5GHz, so maybe they’ll be a little extra overclocking headroom in there too.

1,792 steam processors, 112 TMUs, 32 ROPs, 3GB Memoryy and a 384-bit GDDR5 memory interface mean that this should be a pretty powerful card overall, and while Gigabyte haven’t revealed any pricing information you can expect it to be around 20% more compared to the reference cards.

Thank you TechPowerUp for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of TechPowerUp.

Club 3D Launch Their All New R9 280 royalKing Graphics Card

Following on for the release of their new Radeon R7 and R9 series cards, Club 3D have just revealed their latest entry to their GPU their family. The new card, the Club 3D Radeon R9 280 royalKing, has been designed to bridge the gap between the powerful yet affordable Radeon R9 270X and the more much more powerful, but obviously less affordable R9 280X. Hopefully finding that sweetspot of price Vs. performance that most consumers seek.

“Being a royalKing, the R9 280 is a proud new addition to our widely awarded and recognized PokerSeries.” Said Club 3D in a recent release.

The new card is fitted with a revised edition of the popular Tahiti PRO 2 GPU hardware, this gives the new R9 280 royalKing 1792 Stream Processors, 3072Mb of GDDR5 memory clocked at 5000MHz and a 384 bit memory bus. This puts it way ahead of the competition for this class of card and with a suggested end-user price of just $279 it’s also set to beat the competition in price too. Of course we’ll have to wait and see what performance figures a like, but it’s built around well-tried and tested hardware, so you can expect pretty decent performance from the Tahiti GPU cores.

“The PokerSeries was launched as a dedicated Club 3D sub brand targeted at the most demanding gamers who want the maximum FPS for their money. Since the launch, the cards in the PokerSeries earned numerous awards from international Tech Media for being among the fastest, quietest and coolest looking cards available in the market. The R9 280 royalKing comes with a backplate fitted to look good in any system!”

The PokerSeries cards certainly have proven a popular choice for Club 3D recently and they’re getting quite a nice reputation for themselves amongst PC gamers for their great value for money. With a factory overclock, custom black PCB, high-capacity dual fan CoolStream cooler, 2 x mini DisplayPort, HDMI and one Dual Link DVI-D output, the Club 3D Radeon R9 280 royalKing certainly sounds like a tempting option.

Thank you Club 3D for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Club 3D.

ASUS Unveils Their New R9 280 DirectCU II Graphics Card

Today is a good day for ASUS as they reveal the latest edition to an already great range of AMD R9 graphics cards. The R9 280 DirectCU II graphics card is powered by the latest AMD Radeon R9 280 hardware GPU and to make things even better, it features the legendary Asus DirectCU II cooling technology. DirectCU II allows the card to run cooler, quieter and at a higher clock speed over the stock cooler, which is something we can all appreciate.

“With ASUS DirectCU II technology on board, R9 280 DirectCU II runs up to 20% cooler and up to three times (3X) quieter than reference designs — and that means faster, quieter and more stable gaming. The new card has a base clock speed of 874MHz, which climbs all the way up to 980MHz when boosted.” Said ASUS in a recent press release.

The new cooler allows the improved clock speeds, and combined with a DIGI+ voltage-regulation module (VRM), you can expect better stability and reduced noise from the card. If the factory overclocks and improved cooling aren’t enough for your rig, then the included GPU Tweak software allows for easy real-time adjustments to the cards performance, and an easy way to overclock for both beginners and advanced users alike. With 3GB of super-fast GDDR5 video memory and support for resolutions of up to 2560 x 1600, R9 280 DirectCU II is to be  agreat mid-high end gaming graphics card.

R9280-DC2T-3GD5 Specifications

  • AMD Radeon R9 280
  • PCI Express 3.0
  • OpenGL 4.3
  • 3072MB (3GB) GDDR5 memory
  • 980MHz boost clock
  • 874MHz base clock
  • 5200MHz (1300MHz GDDR5) memory clock
  • 1792 stream processors
  • 1 x DVI-D
  • 1 x DVD-I
  • 1 x HDMI output
  • 1 x DisplayPort

“DirectCU II is an innovative thermal technology that’s exclusive to ASUS. It puts highly-conductive 10mm copper cooling pipes in direct contact with a card’s GPU so heat is dissipated quickly and with extreme efficiency.

The new card also features a unique CoolTech fan: this consists of a hybrid blade and bearing design, with inner radial blower and outer flower-type blades that provide multi-directional airflow to accelerate heat removal and enable highly stable graphics performance.”

As well, the GPU Tweak Streaming tool lets users share on-screen action over the internet in real-time, so others can watch live as games are played. It’s even possible to add a title to the streaming window along with scrolling text, pictures and webcam images, making this an ideal weapon for those who loves to stream their gameplay online, create videos and more.

The new card will be available from March 10th from most major online retailers.

Thank you ASUS for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of ASUS.

Cooler Master Nepton 140XL & 280L Water Coolers Now Available

As with the news of the new CM Storm Trigger Z keyboard we published yesterday, we’re a little late with this article, but we figured that since we missed it the first time around, you might have missed out too! Better late than never, right?

Cooler Master are already one of the leading brands when it comes to cooler design, they didn’t call themselves Cooler Master for nothing. Now they’re looking to show the competition how its done with the release of two brand new all-in-one (AIO) water cooling units, the Nepton 140XL and the Nepton 280L. Each of which features a new pump with an exclusive Cooler Master design, while also improving performance and flow.

Nepton 140XL and 280L both are factory filled and sealed for immediate installation and maintenance-free operation for years. Affixed to Nepton 140XL and 280L are premium JetFlo 140 Series fans that are built specially for the high air pressure and heat dissipation required for high performance watercooling.

For greater cooling compatibility, JetFlo 120 Series fans and other 120mm fans are supported via compatible mounting holes on the radiator. Nepton 280L comes equipped with dual JetFlo 140 fans and an extra large 280mm radiator that, together, generate substantial cooling power that can dissipate up to 300W of heat. This, coupled with a pure copper base, means Nepton can handle high CPU overclocking. Longer and thicker FEP tubing assists in maintaining exceptional performance through less restrictive water flow and superb evaporation resistance.

The Nepton 140XL and 280L are available now from most major online retailer and we expect to have samples in the eTeknix office very shortly, so stay tuned for an in-depth look at their performance and design.

Thank you Cooler Master for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of Cooler Master.