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AMD Never Settle 12.11 Beta Driver Performance Testing

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Manufacturer: AMD

A curious new driver from AMD

In case you missed the news, AMD is going to be making a big push with their Radeon brand from now until the end of the year starting with an incredibly strong game bundle that includes as many as three full games and 20% off the new Medal of Honor.  The second part of this campaign is a new driver specifically the 12.11 beta that will be posted to the public later this week.

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AMD is claiming to have made some substantial improvements on quite a few games including the very popular Battlefield 3 and the upcoming Medal of Honor (both of which use the same base engine).  But keep in mind that 15% is a LOT and this is the best case scenario in specific maps and you may not see benefits on others. 

There are going to be some debates about the validity of these performance boosts from AMD until we can get some more specific details on WHAT has changed.  Essentially the company line is that they have finally "caught up" to the GCN GPU architecture introduced with the Radeon HD 7970 in January of 2012.  We traditionally see this happen with new GPU architectures from both vendors but for it to have taken this long is troublesome and will surely cause some raised eyebrows from gamers and the competition. 

We decided to run through the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition with this new 12.11 beta driver to compare it to the 12.9 beta driver we had just completed testing on a few weeks ago.  AMD claims performance advantages for all the GCN cards including the 7700/7800/7900 cards though we only had time to test a single card for our initial article.  The results are on the following pages...

Continue reading our look at the new AMD 12.11 Beta Catalyst Driver!!

Our Test Setup

For the Radeon HD 7970 3GB review (and all those going forward) we decided it was high time we replaced the somewhat dated Nehalem-based infrastructure (even though honestly, it was fast enough) with something a bit more current.  Obviously that meant going with the new Intel Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 motherboard - by combining support for 40 PCI Express lanes and 3-4 full size GPU slots it makes for the perfect GPU base.

From this point on, our reviews will based around the following system:

  • Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
  • ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard
  • Corsair DDR3-1600 4 x 4GB Vengeance memory
  • 600GB Western Digital VelociRaptor HDD
  • 1200 watt Corsair Professional Series power supply
  • Windows 7 SP1 x64

The ASUS P9X79 Pro

The Intel Core i7-3960X gives us the fastest consumer-level CPU on the market to help eliminate the possibility of any processor-based bottlenecks in our testing (whenever possible).  There are still going to be some games that could use more speed (Skyrim comes to mind) but for our purposes this is as good as you get without getting into any kind of overclocked settings.  The ASUS P9X79 Pro motherboard has enough space for three dual-slot graphics cards when the time comes for testing 3-Way SLI and CrossFire and 8 DIMM slots should we want to go up from our current setup of 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory.  

I chose to stick with the 600GB VelociRaptor hard drive rather than an SSD as our total installation size with Windows 7 SP1 x64 and 6+ games was already hitting the 115GB range.  Finally the 1200 watt power supply from Corsair offers up more than enough juice for three power hungry graphics cards while running quietly enough to not throw off our noise testing drastically.

Speaking of noise, for this article we are re-introducing our sound level testing thanks to the Extech 407738 Sound Level Meter capable of monitor decibel ratings as low as 20db.  This allows me to accurately tell you the noise levels generated by the graphics cards that make in-house at PC Perspective.

Along with the new hardware configuration comes a host of new games.  For this review we will be using the following benchmarks and games for performance evaluation:

  • Battlefield 3
  • Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • DiRT 3
  • Batman: Arkham City
  • Metro 2033
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • 3DMark11
  • Unigine Heaven v2.5

This collection of games is both current and takes into account several different genres as well - first person role playing, third person action, racing, first person shooting, etc.  3DMark11 and Unigine Heaven give us a way to see how the cards stack up in a more synthetic environment while the real-world gameplay testing provided by the six games completes the performance picture.

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The Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition

This article will show you the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition with both the 12.9 and 12.11 beta drivers to see how much of a performance boost you are actually getting with this "Never Settle" push.  Also on the graphs you'll find the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 Ti and the GTX 670 using the 306.23 driver.

October 22, 2012 | 04:51 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What AMD needs to do is to build driver installation and upgrades that actually work without being an absolute nightmare.

For instance, you can only install using a local account actually named ADMINISTRATOR. You can't install with a domain administrator account or an account with full administrator privilege because AMD actually looks for "Administrator" rather than testing to see if the account has sufficient privelige -- and it doesn't stop if you aren't "administrator" and so parts of the install FAIL ... and it tells you that there were "ERRORS" and refers you to the log and in the log ... there is nothing to tell you what actually went wrong.

The first install with new AMD hardware and new AMD drivers isn't too bad IF you use the "ADMINISTRATOR" named account. I routinely rename all the ADMINISTRATOR accounts in my domain and disable the LOCAL ADMINISTRATOR account. I usually create minimal privilege Local and DOMAIN accounts named ADMINISTRATOR with scripts that set off warnings if anyone attempts/gains access to these accounts. Great security but absolutely horrendous if you want to install AMD drivers.

If you are the default "Owner" account with full administrative privilege on your own home PC you can't install the drivers successfully ... you have to get to the the, often hidden, ADMINISTRATOR account and use it for the install.

TO UPGRADE ... you must completely remove the old drivers/catalyst (a difficult to impossible task hence the need to purchase a third party piece of software to simply remove the old drivers/catalyst). The uninstall won't successfully uninstall if the drivers are in use hence you must downgrade to 640x480 VGA, reboot, then try to Uninstall and it still likely fails. After spending hours/many reboots repeatedly getting rid of the old software, likely, you will still need to call AMD and get them to tell you to delete certain in obscure directories holding DOT.NET compiled binaries (that aren't removed by the uninstall). Worse, the install does not "sniff" to see if you have the DOT.NET components installed and blindly installs over the top which completely corrupts the entire DOT.NET (All versions) and then you may have to completely remove all of your DOT.NET (2.0, 2.0, 2.5, 4.0) requires a reboot between each uninstall and then re-install them in order ... again with lots of reboots and at least a half dozen reboots as Microsoft Updates to each are applied before you can even get to the point where you may attempt to install the drivers again. Last time I upgraded it took about 12 hours to accomplish the uninstall-reinstall and I still needed AMD support to help with getting rid of a couple files before I got the new drivers/catalyst working.

Why would anyone want to buy hardware that imposes this much headache to merely update the drivers???

If they fixed the drivers to be as painless to install/update/remove as nVidia ... they could succeed in selling the hardware (which works great once you go through the long and painful trip to get the drivers installed!!!

Who cares about how great the hardware is if the software is an absolute nightmare.

October 22, 2012 | 10:38 AM - Posted by Farquhar (not verified)

Troll?

I've been using AMD/ATI since the 9700 Pro and I have no idea what you are talking about. Granted the initial 12.x drivers sucked (at least for me), I never had any trouble installing them.

October 22, 2012 | 11:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

hmm, been using AMD on and off for the last 12 years, and never experienced the problems you are talking about. Perhaps something to do with your pc using skills?

October 22, 2012 | 12:34 PM - Posted by JSL

Obvious Troll is Obvious.

I've personally deployed Catalyst installs/driver updates remotely (not mstsc, or 3rd party remote management) and including integrating it into Windows Server Update Services to push out to computers controlled by ADDS. Never once have I experienced the same garbage you're spouting.

The .Net packages included with some of the beta driver packages are the same redistributables that are both installed via windows update/available in Microsoft's download center.

Your desktop environment must have been royally pooched (by yourself), you dont know anything about group policy, your computer skills are excessively poor (similar to your grammatical skills), or all of the above.

Please; tell us more about your failures.

October 24, 2012 | 10:06 PM - Posted by FxAlpha (not verified)

My system does not even have account named Administrator. And any privileged user can be used to install any AMD drivers including non-WHQL. There are minor problems time to time, but someone who is not able to solve them had no business touching beta drivers. Definitely non problematic compared to PhysX drivers where newer driver may cripple support for older games. Or situations where it gets impossible to reinstall faulty libraries. Or installers missing buttons/text (overridden by /silent parameter fix). And so on, no one is perfect, but trolling is trolling.

November 5, 2012 | 02:59 PM - Posted by Activate: AMD (not verified)

1) My account is not named "administrator", I use the default owner account for all upgrades and have never, ever, had an installation fail for these issues.
2)It is best practice to uninstall drivers. I used to use a 3rd party driver cleaner, but stopped when I lost the license key. In 3-4 years since then, I have uninstalled or not uninstalled before upgrading with both AMD and nV, and have only had a problem once... with the nVidia drivers.
3).Net has survived every driver install i've had with no issues.

Bottom line: upgrading my ATI/AMD drivers usually takes 10 minutes and 1 reboot. They are no more difficult to install than nV's, and in my experience over the last 10 years, I've actually had more frustrating issues with nV than ATI/AMD.

As background, I've owned plenty of ATI/AMD's (9600XT, 9700Pro, x800xt, x1900xtx, 4870/CFX, 7970) and nVidia's (TNT2,7800, 7900, GTS250, GTX460/SLI)

October 22, 2012 | 06:33 AM - Posted by lima (not verified)

I don't know about this Administrator thing, but I never had problems with upgrades. Run new Catalyst, upgrade and everything works.

October 22, 2012 | 08:14 AM - Posted by Angry

Never had the admin issue, never heard of it either.
And my account name def isnt administrator.

October 22, 2012 | 08:25 AM - Posted by Angry

Also, me nore any of my friends have had issues upgrading or swapping drivers.

And we have the last 4 generations of card covered between all of us

October 22, 2012 | 09:26 AM - Posted by Mnemonicman

No problems installing the drivers except for the odd time I forget to install .Net. Drivers would still work but no CCC. Easily fixed. Would like to know how the 7970 does with the 12.11s.

October 22, 2012 | 09:45 AM - Posted by Lord Binky (not verified)

They apparently took a cattleprod to their driver group. I wonder what differences in manpower they have between hardware development and software development(ie:drivers).

October 22, 2012 | 01:59 PM - Posted by b3 player (not verified)

ryan, thanks for the heads up on the drivers . wood you recomend the 6600 ti 7950 for a b3 gamer . thakns . tom

October 22, 2012 | 05:01 PM - Posted by gordonk (not verified)

dude, if you need administrator approval to install anything then you must be using your parents computer.

I have never had any sort of issue. Buy a 3rd party driver??

Every heard of driver sweeper? ccleaner? both of those do a great job deleting old files not needed and both create a backup if desires of your registry in case you are stupid and mess it up..like you must have done.

It sounds like you deleted some keys in the registry you shouldn't have because you learned on the internet that you can type regedit in the comand line and then started deleting files you had no clue as to what they were.

I have only owned ati cards and the only time I get hateful is if it has been months since an update. Graphics drivers can only do so much..alot also has to do with the game coding, your motherboard, cpu, memory and sound drivers.

Uninstalling drivers is pretty damn easy. Uninstall, restart, run ccleaner or driver sweeper..reboot, install new drivers, then reboot again. Not a 12 hour process.

October 22, 2012 | 09:28 PM - Posted by tbone (not verified)

with the freaking awesome AAA gaming bundle, it should be a no brainer

a 7950 for $280 and $170 in games

October 24, 2012 | 03:56 AM - Posted by ThorAxe

I noticed that Nvidia has released the 310.33 beta which purports to increase performance by up to 15%.

Check out Geforce.com for details.

October 25, 2012 | 04:27 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

We wantz 7970/7950 updates! :)

October 26, 2012 | 02:34 AM - Posted by dudz_fryd (not verified)

Lots of piling on here guys. I mean it's great that none of you have had anything but flowers and sunny skies with ATI/AMD drivers but the assertion that AMD/ATI drivers are perfect is just false.

I've had my own issues with them albeit not to the extent described in the first post.

The driver update process is also ridiculously long for ATI drivers compared to Nvidia. Does it really need to take 10 minutes just for a driver upgrade?

I know from my own experience that weird stuff can happen and that's the stuff they need to know about especially if it's repeatable.

People are too quick to dismiss opinions that differ with their own these days. As they say, "Your mileage may vary"

October 26, 2012 | 05:06 AM - Posted by Tom Yum (not verified)

Interesting, I looked through all the posts and didn't see a single person say AMD drivers were perfect. What I did see was a lot of people respond to the first post who may or may not have significant issues with AMD drivers, but rather than say 'I've had these issues with AMD drivers' instead said 'AMD drivers need you to do this, this and this', which is quite different.

For instance, I've never had your experience of AMD drivers take 10 minutes to install, but I'm happy to accept that you have had that happen. You seem pretty happy to acknowledge that other people may have different experiences, but the first poster clearly isn't, and I think the responses after that were more to show that his assertions that his issues were a definitive consequence of AMD drivers were false.

November 13, 2012 | 12:02 PM - Posted by ho1mes (not verified)

I was on the fence for several months about what card to get this round. I was rocking a GT 220 for the last year and was in need of a serious upgrade. My first choice was the GTX 660, but the price was a little high. The recent price drops, game bundle, and improved drivers of the radeon 7850 were enough to clinch the deal. So far, not regrets. I love this card.

November 27, 2012 | 05:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Absolutely. Never had any problem with drivers, and the 7850 has been a stellar performer for me on Witcher 1 & 2, Battlefield 2 & 3, Metro, and Guild Wars 2. LOW power consumption, good performance, small card, great price. Caught the Sapphire for $189.

November 17, 2012 | 09:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Agreed AMD drivers have not been the easiest to install. However under Linux they work properly with a simple sudo prefix, as all installs should.

Having one big driver package covering a great many boards with one installer is the correct approach and has been an advantage of AMD for many years.

By contrast the many little constantly changing file names, arrogant and deliberate incompatibility with Linux, and other irritants, turned me off nVidia long ago. Linus Torvalds saw fit to condemn nVidia in public. That about says it all.

Consider also price/performance of AMD processors and the likelihood of better portability and power performance with ARM cores included - AMD itself is creating a 64-bit ARM core which will certainly end up on desktop and other chips along with x86 - an all-AMD solution is going to be more supported long run than intel. Which still makes 32 bit stuff, and which has its own graphics problems.

nVidia and intel are likely to ally eventually to combat this threat and that means (given how both companies behave) more weird issues and failures to cooperate than ever. I'd stick with all-AMD to be sure that no corporate war breaks out on my motherboard.

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