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AMD Catalyst Omega Driver Release - Performance, Features, Stability

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Manufacturer: AMD

New Features

There are smart people that work at AMD. A quick look at the company's products, including the APU lineup as well as the discrete GPU fields, clearly indicates a lineup of talent in engineering, design, marketing and business. It's not perfect of course, and very few companies can claim to be, but the strengths of AMD are there and easily discernible to those of us on the outside looking in with the correct vision.

Because AMD has smart people working hard to improve the company, they are also aware of its shortcomings. For many years now, the thorn of GPU software has been sticking in AMD's side, tarnishing the name of Radeon and the products it releases. Even though the Catalyst graphics driver has improved substantially year after year, the truth is that NVIDIA's driver team has been keeping ahead of AMD consistently in basically all regards: features, driver installation, driver stability, performance improvements over time.

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If knowing is half the battle, acting on that knowledge is at least another 49%. AMD is hoping to address driver concerns now and into the future with the release of the Catalyst Omega driver. This driver sets itself apart from previous releases in several different ways, starting with a host of new features, some incremental performance improvements and a drastically amped up testing and validation process.

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AMD considers this a "special edition" driver and is something that they plan to repeat on a yearly basis. That note in itself is an interesting point - is that often enough to really change the experience and perception of the Catalyst driver program going forward? Though AMD does include some specific numbers of tested cases for its validation of the Omega driver (441,000+ automated test runs, 11,000+ manual test runs) we don't have side by side data from NVIDIA to compare it to. If AMD is only doing a roundup of testing like this once a year, but NVIDIA does it more often, then AMD might soon find itself back in the same position it has been.

UPDATE: There has been some confusion based on this story that I want to correct. AMD informed us that it is still planning on releasing other drivers throughout the year that will address performance updates for specific games and bug fixes for applications and titles released between today and the pending update for the next "special edition." AMD is NOT saying that they will only have a driver drop once a year.

But before we worry about what's going to happen in the future, let's look into what AMD has changed and added to the new Catalyst Omega driver released today.

Continue reading our overview of the new AMD Catalyst Omega driver!!

Catalyst Omega - New Features

AMD has put a lot of work into this new driver and there are several interesting new features added that impact both discrete GPU and integrated GPU (APU) users.

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Several of the new features center around improvements to video playback. Take AMD Fluid Motion Video for example, applicable to 35 watt and above APUs and all R7 and R9 discrete GPUs. This feature attempts to smooth out playback of Blu-ray with frame rate conversion and interpolation. Video judder is removed though movie purists might notice some of these changes and wish to disable them.

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AMD is implementing a new video scaling engine that will upscale 1080p content for users with 4K monitors (that number continues to grow as 4K panels drop in price). While nothing will magically make 1920x1080 content into full 3840x2160 content, using a combination of the Fluid Motion Video, detail enhancements and finely tuned adaptive upscaling can have a substantial improvement in the video experience. In my quick testing here before launch the video quality is definitely improved though that effect is more noticeable and acceptable with some types of content than with others.

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Frame pacing and improved gaming smoothness continues to be a sticking point for AMD's driver team and with the Catalyst Omega release users of AMD Dual Graphics, a combination of an AMD APU and a lower cost discrete GPU, will see improvements. Several games are called out directly here including the Metro series, Tomb Raider and Sniper Elite 3. We'll have more testing on these differences in the very near future, so check back soon. We are glad to see AMD is driving forward with its promise to make gaming smoother and more enjoyable for gamers of all kinds.

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Easily the most interesting feature addition with Catalyst Omega is Virtual Super Resolution, the ability for AMD's driver to present resolutions higher than the installed panel for games (and Windows) to render to. If this sounds familiar it, it should: NVIDIA launched Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) just this past September with the launch of it's Maxwell desktop GPUs. The idea is essentially the same: render a game at higher resolution than your currently supported display and then filter that image down to the native resolution of your panel. If you have the GPU horsepower available, you can render at game at up to 4K resolution and then filter it down to your 1920x1080 panel, revealing more detail and presenting better imagery than you would be able to get otherwise.

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AMD's VSR has more restrictions than NVIDIA's DSR, though it is enabled through exactly the same methods (enable in driver, select in game). You can see in the table above that there are some restrictions to note, including GPU support. For example, only the R9 285 using the Tonga GPU is able support 4K upscaling capability. The R9 290X and R9 290, higher powered GPUs but based on a slightly older GCN architecture, don't have the scalar capability to reliably downsample from 4K to 1080p and thus they are limited to 3200x1800. That will definitely still present a higher quality image than native, it's just a note-worthy hiccup in AMD's implementation

I did ask about other GPU support and AMD stated that it MIGHT be willing to implement VSR for other GPUs but it have to implement a software/shader based version of the scaling process.

Though I have only limited information currently, AMD claims that VSR will have a 0% performance penalty for its scaling process. It appears that AMD has implemented a polyphase multi-tap solution for its scaling; these methods are complex but bring about good image quality while reducing any potential noise in the image.

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A little over a month ago Alienware announced an external unit, called a Graphics Amplifier, that allowed a discrete graphics card to be used with a specific Alienware gaming notebook. With Catalyst Omega, the unit will now support AMD graphics cards officially with some dramatic performance increases when using high end hardware like the Radeon R9 290X in it.

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The AMD Catalyst Omega driver adds support for FreeSync, or DisplayPort's Adaptive Sync feature. Now before you get overly excited, this is only a first step for the technology's release as now display vendors and partners with AMD can begin to test and validate any potential displays coming out some time in 2015. In case you missed it, Samsung announced support for FreeSync in several upcoming monitors due in 2015. Trust me, we are still following up with AMD continuously to try to get more information and hands on time with FreeSync. You'll know more when we do!

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There are even more features than the ones discussed above including slightly more obtuse additions like color gamut remap support, installer updates and Linux distro specific packaging. But what about the world of performance improvements - what does AMD claim to offer with Omega?


December 9, 2014 | 12:28 AM - Posted by Shortwave (not verified)

Bummer, just sent back a 285 cause of driver issues.
Myself nor' Asus were able to get it working, tried lots of stuff.
Couldn't play any DX11/Mantle title with BSOD..
Different drivers, different OS's and tons of tweakin' nodda!

Would of sad/funny if this fixed that but sadly I need the system sold before christmas.. Will have to toss a 660 in it I have instead, but the system was built for AMD/the 285 so.. BLEH.

First time buying AMD in some time.. Was sad..
Not sure if I can make that gamble again.
But on the other hand I'm now terrified of Nvidia support..

Guh.

December 9, 2014 | 09:12 AM - Posted by Forestwood (not verified)

At least if you're lying, for whatever reason, make up a believable lie! Do you people get paid do this cheap bashing on AMD drivers or whatever? I've had the 285 for some 10 days now and I've had ZERO driver problems, and I've tried all the 8 new/relatively-new games that I have installed on my PC. None!

December 9, 2014 | 12:27 PM - Posted by Sonic4Spuds

Remember that Just because you don't have an issue doesn't mean that someone else's isn't real. I have seen things like the first comment stated from both vendors, though primarily from AMD.

December 9, 2014 | 04:33 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

Why would you accuse someone of lying about a DOA video card? AMD and Nvidia both have tons of DOA video cards. The RMA rate is probably somewhere around 5-10%.

December 9, 2014 | 11:50 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If the card is DOA. Why start off by saying drivers were the issue. Software isn't going to work with a bad card.

Common sense.

December 11, 2014 | 04:23 AM - Posted by Klimax (not verified)

How can you say some of 400 fixes don't fix his case?

December 9, 2014 | 01:40 AM - Posted by BrownBear (not verified)

Russian journalist Anton Logvinov took a photo of Nvidia server room in Moscow where all new games and drivers are tested for compatibility with the most widespread PC configurations and OS systems (3rd photo):
http://alogvinov.com/2014/01/kak-zhivet-nvidia-v-rossii/

Direct link to photo: http://alogvinov.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/20140117-123808.jpg

Also, what I personally personally hate in AMD software:
1.You can't record any game using GVR, only games in library! No desktop recording. Shadowplay is so much better in this regard because it allows to record desktop and any game
2. GVR is integrated into AMD Gaming Evolved Client created by Raptr. WHY?! This client is overloaded with unneeded functionality: it has built-in store (WTF?), free games, community forums, prizes, etc. I don't need all of that! I just want to record my games, why do I have to install this monster?

GeForce Experience is so much better: no stores, forums, etc, only the functionality you need.

3. Omega Drivers are going to be released once a year. Are they kidding? Nvidia drivers are released much more frequently.

What I personally don't like in Nvidia drivers:
You can't select color range for 3D apps/desktop, it is selected automatically. As the result, GPU sends out limited color range when using HDMI and DisplayPort at 1080p60hz. All monitors support Full Range so using Limited Range just doesn't make any sense. Luckily, ManuelG has already stated a couple of times that this feature would be added December 2014.

But in my opinion, it is too late - they should have added this feature years ago.

December 9, 2014 | 09:22 AM - Posted by JohnGR

GeForce Experience is so much better that it was overloading my firewall. I throw it out the windows and never installed again. I don't record games anyway and I know how to change the settings in a game, thank you very much.

About Omega drivers and Nvidia drivers. Do you see frequent "Wonder" drivers from Nvidia? Then why do you expect frequent Omega drivers from AMD?

One more thing you should dislike with Nvidia drivers. IT LOCKS THE UNIVERSE if it detects hardware that it's not made by Nvidia.

December 9, 2014 | 12:30 PM - Posted by Sonic4Spuds

I've never had any issue with the drivers from Nvidia when I have other hardware, so likely whatever you have seen is a while ago, or a windows related issue.

December 9, 2014 | 02:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

He was referring to the pretty crappy move Nvidia made by disabling physx when a pc has both an AMD and an Nvidia gpu in it.

http://www.tomshardware.com/news/nvidia-physx-ati-gpu-disable,8742.html

December 9, 2014 | 02:33 PM - Posted by Such Wow, very hypocrite (not verified)

"Remember that Just because you don't have an issue doesn't mean that someone else's isn't real."

Because this is a nvidia issue... it is obviously something the end user did wrong...

December 9, 2014 | 05:16 PM - Posted by Stylian (not verified)

About the limited color range:
I went mad when i switched to an HDMI monitor because blacks looked washed out and the image in general faded.

I tried to compensate by adjusting color / gamma options in the nvidia control panel but nothing looked right.

The problem of course, is the limited color range. This is a "bug" that should've been fixed A LONG TIME AGO!. Thankfully, there is a small, free fix / toggle for this. You click "set full range", restart and suddenly your monitor is worth its money again. (If you are using an HDMI cable to connect to your monitor and you are using an nVidia card, this is a MUST HAVE)

Get it here: http://blog.metaclassofnil.com/?p=83

December 10, 2014 | 02:02 AM - Posted by BrownBear (not verified)

Check out this thread: https://forums.geforce.com/default/topic/523992/geforce-drivers/tip-for-...

It look like Nvidia is finally going to fix this bug in the next driver that is going to be released this December.

December 9, 2014 | 02:03 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Your wrong about recording games on amd, haven't had any problem, using fraps, raptr and other recording programs.

December 9, 2014 | 05:25 AM - Posted by Daniel (not verified)

Same here no issue, haven't had any driver issues either. My experience with AMD and its catalyst control center is about the same as my experience when i ran Nvidia experience.

December 9, 2014 | 05:26 AM - Posted by renz (not verified)

he only talk about GVR specifically.

December 9, 2014 | 02:04 AM - Posted by Zealotki11er (not verified)

Good move by AMD but the problem is their GCN architecture. We had HD 7970, 280X which is a re-brand, 260/290/290X and all alone 285 all sporting partial features. Only was able to test VSR with Dota 2 and IQ was worse then native resolution.

December 9, 2014 | 05:29 AM - Posted by renz (not verified)

interesting they mention OGL ES3.0. isn't that full OGL more important on desktop instead of OGL ES? ehst about their OGL 4.5? also can we expect AMD to release Mantle SDK this month?

December 9, 2014 | 06:24 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is the 7990 compatible with Virtual Super Resolution?

December 9, 2014 | 06:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

AMD Website says only 290,290x,295x and 285, article says they perhaps consider adding more GPUs.

December 9, 2014 | 06:27 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

So I have a 7950 boost (wich is essentially a 280...) and I don't get the super resolution? Or do I fail to understand who gets what? Only 290/290x and 285? Just.. why :(

December 9, 2014 | 09:25 AM - Posted by JohnGR

Unfortunately it goes the other way around. You have a 280 that is in fact an 7950 boost that is in fact an overclocked original and old 7950.

December 9, 2014 | 09:49 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Yeah I know, the point I was trying to make is, even though its name is 7950 (which was released about 2,5 years ago) it is actually still a "current" card. I am pretty sad to see AMD not properly supporting their current lineup :/
NVIDIA DSR even supports all the Fermi Cards (Technically that is even the GTX4xx series!).

December 10, 2014 | 05:10 AM - Posted by Cataclysm_ZA

Nvidia didn't have DSR support for their older cards on day one either. That feature had to be added in later.

December 9, 2014 | 09:16 AM - Posted by Searching4Sasquatch (not verified)

WOW.....Tech Report article says this: " AMD conceded that some of today's additions "could have been deployed a month or two ago." The firm believes it's "more exciting" for users to get many new features at once, however"

You. Must. Be. Joking.

December 9, 2014 | 09:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's called marketing, you should be used to it by now. Whether it was or wasn't ready to launch months ago doesn't really matter. Every company strategically releases products. Bug fixes are one thing, but products and features that increase brand value will forever be released when it best suits the company.

December 9, 2014 | 09:40 AM - Posted by Brandito (not verified)

Back when I had a radeon 9800 there was a guy/group throwing together 3rd party driver packages for ATI and they were also called Omega drivers. Wonder if the name is a nod to that.

December 9, 2014 | 10:25 AM - Posted by Ophelos

The Asus VG248QE goes up to 3200x1800 running 2 R9 290s. Which isn't bad. The text is way to small, so i went with 1440p @ 100Hz.

December 9, 2014 | 11:57 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How does this work? Its not replacing the Beta driver program right? Once a year drivers? how do they plan to support a new game 3/4 of way through the year?

December 9, 2014 | 12:43 PM - Posted by collie

It's not 100% clear in the wording, but I think they mean that this is a once a year driver version update, actual software to pull out the power of the card itself, followed by the normal cycle up updates to optimize for specific games.

December 9, 2014 | 01:36 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Yup that is right.  Once a year they will release a 'super' driver, beta and WHQL releases will still occur between them.

December 9, 2014 | 05:33 PM - Posted by Buyers

*EDIT* There's a separate installer for both Win7 and Win8. Originally the link was for "Windows7/8.1 x64", but each OS has their own installer now. Grabbing Win7 specific package fixed the problem.

This driver didn't work for me, coming from beta 14.11.1. I used DDU to clean out old drivers in safe mode and restart fresh. The install itself went through 'successfully', but never once prompted for a restart like previous drivers did. After i manually restarted, my Aero transparency was gone, i lost the 'Sleep' option when shutting down, it didnt auto-detect any resolution, just defaulted to 800x600, lost borders on some windows... and when i tried to open CCC, i got an error saying something like "unable to open catalyst control center. There is nothing available to configure". Ran DDU again and started over to try a second time and got all the same issues. Went back to the beta 14.11's.

Win7 Pro x64, Z68A-GD65 G3, i5-2500K @4.3, 8G GSkill DDR3-1866, MSI HD7950 Twin Frozr

December 9, 2014 | 01:12 PM - Posted by H1tman_Actua1

AMD FTF!

December 9, 2014 | 02:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is that the best you can do? Did you stay up all night trying to come up with that?

But since you went ahead and posted that, I'll at least correct your spelling:

"H1tman_Actua1 FTF!"

December 9, 2014 | 01:34 PM - Posted by collie

Ok, so personal experience so far. I have a r7-260 1gb, and I have been playing far cry 4 obsessively since it came out, soooooo good, and I like to leave fraps on because, well, I'm a geek. I was playing at 720p on low with a few tweaks getting a very nice 50-60 fps no vsync with the occasional 1 second dip to about 30, hardly noticeable, and It still looks awesome, beautiful even at low.

This morning, I got the AMD e-mail as soon as I woke up, read the article above and installed it. And just to see if there was any difference, and I am shocked. SHOCKED!!!! without changing the settings I was seeing 80-90 fps. No joke, 80-90 fps. My monitor is only 60hz and I wanted to play quick, I tried pumping up the resolution, and shock again, I was playing at 1600/900 and I am getting the same frames I was getting on my old settings. This is awesome. Later today, when I have more free time, I will see how high I can get the settings while on 720p. I have never seen this kinda improvement from a single driver update, ever.

Blown away AMD, keep up the good fight!

December 9, 2014 | 05:25 PM - Posted by collie

This seems impossible. I keep (unsuccessfully) looking for any reviews of this driver with lower end cards, as I cant believe the performance boost on this card on this single game. Keep in mind I am not bench marking, I'm just playing with fraps on, but the video boost is un belivable. I've got it at 1366:768, on basicaly high settings with a few tweaks, and It's smooth as silk. I will have to try it on older games to see if I can get similar boosts, fc3 and bioshock infinite come to mind, but I just cant stop playing this beautiful game, the leaves are so much leafier, and even the non nvidia god rays are so cool, I love the flash on my shiny barrel.

December 9, 2014 | 04:30 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

Ryan, I think you need to talk to Jeremey H about his articles he posts. It would be nice if he at least took a look at the site before posting. What's the point of him putting up a post to "The Tech Report" about AMD Omega after you did your own review? Someone like me logs on to PCper, sees Jeremey's article first, tries to read it and understand it (hard to do with the way he writes), and then might go waste more time looking at the tech report. From the get go we should have not seen his article and seen yours first and then read your article.

I mean this is a weekly problem from him. Just the other day a PCPer reviewer wrote an article about the 850 evo. A day or two later and here's Jeremy with another article to the Register.

Just common sense man. It's not helping your business.

December 9, 2014 | 05:16 PM - Posted by collie

Jer's article link's to this one.

December 9, 2014 | 07:04 PM - Posted by aparsh335i (not verified)

That's missing the point. It's repetitive and it's pulling reader viewing time away from PCPer and to other sites instead.

December 11, 2014 | 06:23 PM - Posted by db87

Truly awesome drivers. AC Unity went from 21fps to 46fps and is no longer dipping low (perfectly playable now) witgh my HD7970 3GB. Performance with Far Cry 4 is also much better.

December 12, 2014 | 05:59 PM - Posted by db87

These are great drivers. The big surprise is how much better Assassin's Creed Unity runs on my HD7970: before 21fps now 46fps in a heavily crowded area. Far Cry 4 also runs much, much smoother.

AMD doesn't mention it specifically but allot of games run faster with the Omega driver.

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