AMD Catalyst Omega 14.12 Driver Performance

AMD Catalyst Omega Driver Suite AMD worked on the Catalyst Omega Driver (Catalyst 14.12) that was released earlier this week for nearly six months. These new drivers bring new features, a ton of bug fixes and of course the usual performance and quality improvements that gamers expect from each new driver release. AMD put so much time and effort into these new special edition drivers that they wanted to name this something different to help them stand out from the crowd.  We figured the least we could do is take a look at the performance of the the new Catalyst Omega driver versus that of the previous non-beta driver release, which would be Catalyst 14.9. AMD Omega Performance Improvements AMD gave Legit Reviews a slide deck that showed that they had improved performance by up to 19% on the AMD Radeon R9 290X video card since it was released. This is great and all, but comparing Catalyst 14.12 drivers to Catalyst 13.12 drivers is a bit of a stretch as more than a year of time has passed. We asked AMD for performance numbers between the AMD Catalyst Omega drivers and the latest non-beta driver release (Catalyst 14.9) and we were not given that information. This is rather unusual and after doing this for 12 years we figured it might be worth a closer look as there might not be a significant performance increase between the latest build and Catalyst Omega. AMD Frame Pacing Improvements We'll be using a pair of AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB reference cards for benchmarking so we can also take a look at the frame pacing enhancements that AMD has claimed to have improved for dual graphics users. Frame-pacing issues have become a concern to both NVIDIA SLI and AMD CrossFire multi-GPU users in recent years. AMD has continued developing frame-pacing enhancements and there are many improvements in the Catalyst Omega drivers that should bring a smoother gameplay experience to gamers with a multi-GPU setup. It was explained to us that the AMD Catalyst Omega driver provides more consistent frame times, with smaller differences in render time between subsequent frames, and this results in a smoother, more enjoyable gaming experience. AMD also informed Legit Reviews they they picked 15 popular game titles and improved the frame pacing on them. We once again asked multiple times for the list of the 15 game titles that were optimized, but was not given that list. AMD did mention in their presentation that that Batman Arkham Origins, Sniper Elite 3, Tomb Raider and the Metro Series were part of the titles that were improved. We figured that this is something that we could test on our own, so we tested game titles like Batman Arkham Origins and Metro Last Light that we know has enhancements and then game titles like Battlefield 4, Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 that weren't mentioned. Let's take a look at what we found out!

Test System

Before we look at the numbers, let's take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done using a fresh install of Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running.  There has been some concern of people testing a cold card versus a hot card, but we've always done out testing 'hot' since the site started back more than a decade ago. Video Cards & Drivers used for testing:

Intel X79/LGA2011 Platform

290-crossfire-system

The Intel X79 platform that we used to test the all of the video cards was running the ASUS P9X79-E WS motherboard with BIOS 1501 that came out on 01/15/2014. We went with the Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E processor to power this platform as it is PCIe 3.0 certified, so all graphics cards are tested with PCI Express Gen 3 enabled. The Kingston HyperX 10th Anniversary 16GB 2400MHz quad channel memory kit was set to XMP Profile #2. This profile defaults to 2133MHz with 1.65v and 11-12-12-30 1T memory timings. The OCZ Vertex 460 240GB SSD was run with latest firmware available. A Corsair AX860i digital power supply provides clean power to the system and is also silent as the fan hardly ever spins up. This is critical to our testing as it lowers the ambient noise level of the room and gives us more accurate sound measurements than the old Corsair AX1200 power supply that we used from 2012 till this year had a loud fan that always ran. gpu-test-system-specs Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
The Intel X79 Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor Intel Core i7-4960X
Motherboard
ASUS P9X79-E WS
Memory
16GB Kingston 2133MHz
Video Card Various
Solid-State Drive OCZ Vertex 460 240GB
Cooling Intel TS13X (Asetek)
Power Supply Corsair AX860i
Operating System Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Monitor Sharp PN-K321 32" 4K
  AMD Radeon R9 290 4GB Reference Video Card GPU-Z Info: 290-gpuz

Batman: Arkham Origins

BatmanOrigins-SS Batman: Arkham Origins is an action-adventure video game developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal. Based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, it follows the 2011 video game Batman: Arkham City and is the third main installment in the Batman: Arkham series. It was released worldwide on October 25, 2013. BatmanOrigins settings For testing we used DirectX11 Enhanced, FXAA High Anti-Aliasing and with all the bells and whistles turned on. It should be noted that V-Sync was turned off and that NVIDIA's PhysX software engine was also disabled to ensure both the AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards were rendering the same objects. We manually ran FRAPS on the single player game instead of using the built-in benchmark to be as real world as we possibly could. We ran FRAPS in the Bat Cave, which was one of the only locations that we could easily run FRAPS for a couple minutes and get it somewhat repeatable. batman-cpu-utilization The CPU usage for Batman: Arkham Origins was surprising low with just 10% of the Intel Core i7-4960X being used by this particular game title. You can see that the bulk of the work is being done by one CPU core. batman-average Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290 CrossFire setup was able to average 133.5 FPS on Batman: Arkham Origins with Catalyst 14.9 drivers and by installing the latest Catalyst Omega (14.12) drivers we were able to improve that up to 150.5 FPS.  This is a solid 13% performance gain from just a driver update and nothing else. batman-time Benchmark Results: When you look at performance over time there is a section of our benchmark run that saw significant improvements, while the rest of the run was pretty similar to the older Catalyst 14.9 drivers. batman-frametimes Benchmark Results: When you look at frame times the key thing you are looking for is how spread apart the numbers are. You can see this by looking at the line charts or by the standard deviation that we calculated and put in the legend on each chart to get a numerical number for how spread out the numbers are. It looks like there was about a 12% improvement in frame times with the Omega drivers, which is excellent as AMD was able to improve performance and smooth out the time it takes to render each frame. Just keep in mind that smaller values indicate a smoother experience and radical increases is bad and usually where micro stutters that people associate to frame pacing happens.

Battlefield 4

bf4-screenshot Battlefield 4 is a first-person shooter video game developed by EA Digital Illusions CE (DICE) and published by Electronic Arts. It is a sequel to 2011's Battlefield 3 and was released on October 29, 2013 in North America. Battlefield 4's single-player Campaign takes place in 2020, six years after the events of its predecessor. Tensions between Russia and the United States have been running at a record high. On top of this, China is also on the brink of war, as Admiral Chang, the main antagonist, plans to overthrow China's current government; and, if successful, the Russians will have full support from the Chinese, bringing China into a war with the United States. bf4-settings This game title uses the Frostbite 3 game engine and looks great. We tested Battlefield 4 with the Ultra graphics quality preset as most discrete desktop graphics cards can easily play with this IQ setting at 1080P and we still want to be able to push the higher-end cards down the road. We used FRAPS to benchmark with these settings on the Shanghai level. All tests were done with the DirectX 11 API unless noted in the chart. bf4-cpu-utilization Battlefield 4 is more CPU intensive than any other game that we benchmark with as 25% of the CPU is used up during gameplay. You can see that six threads are being used and that the processor is running in Turbo mode at 3.96GHz more times than not. bf4-average Benchmark Results: In Battlefield 4 with Ultra settings at Full HD 1080P resolutions we found that there was not a significant difference between Catalyst 14.9 and Catalyst Omega (14.12) drivers. In fact, we found slightly better performance with Catalyst 14.9 drivers on this game title if you get right down to it.  Not like you'll be able to tell a 0.34 FPS difference though when you are gaming at an average of 136FPS! bf4-time Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290 CrossFire setup ran BF4 pretty smoothly and never dropped below 110 FPS. bf4-frametimes Benchmark Results: When looking at the Frame Times we did found a standard deviation of 1.72 on the Catalyst Omega (14.12) drivers versus 1.92 on the older Catalyst 14.9 drivers. This goes to show that while the average FPS didn't really change the time it took to render the frames improved by nearly 10.5% and this helps smooth out the gaming experience so you have less micro stutters.

Far Cry 3

Farcry3 Game Screenshot Far Cry 3 is an open world first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is the sequel to 2008's Far Cry 2. The game was released on December 4th, 2012 for North America. Far Cry 3 is set on a tropical island found somewhere at the intersection of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. After a vacation goes awry, player character Jason Brody has to save his kidnapped friends and escape from the islands and their unhinged inhabitants.

fc3-settings

FarCry 3 Video Quality Far Cry 3 uses the Dunia Engine 2 game engine with Havok physics. The graphics are excellent and the game really pushes the limits of what one can expect from mainstream graphics cards. We set game title to 2x MSAA Anti-Aliasing and ultra quality settings. fc3-cpu-utilization Far Cry 3 appears to be like most of the other games we are using to test video cards and uses up about 20% of the processor and is running on multiple cores.

farcry3-average

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290 CrossFire setup averaged 79.19 FPS with Catalyst 14.9 drivers and 81.51 FPS with the latest Catalyst Omega video card drivers. It looks like we got a modest 2.9% performance improvement with the Catalyst 14.12 drivers versus 14.9.

farcry3-time

Benchmark Results: Some small variations here and there, but no big frame drops on any of the cards to report back about. We noted six dips on our benchmark run and they are there with both drivers, so no big improvements there. These dips are not present when one is using a single-GPU, so it is just something that happens on Far Cry 3 when one is using multiple discrete graphics cards.

farcry3-frametimes

Benchmark Results: The standard deviation with Catalyst 14.9 drivers was 2.82 and it was found to be 2.43 with Catalyst Omega drivers. This is a 14% improvement in frame times, which is pretty substantial! If you look at the six slow downs or dips that we noted when looking at the previous FPS chart they go along perfectly with the spikes we are seeing in the frame times. These spikes are notably lower with the Catalyst Omega drivers.

Far Cry 4

FarCry4 Far Cry 4 is an action-adventure first-person shooter video game developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One video game consoles, and Microsoft Windows. It is the sequel to 2012's Far Cry 3. The game was released on November 18th, 2014 in North America and Europe. Far Cry 4 follows Ajay Ghale, a young Kyrati-American who returns to his native country Kyrat to spread his deceased mother's ashes. He finds the country in a state of civil war between Kyrat's Royal Army led by the country's eccentric and tyrant king Pagan Min and the Golden Path, a rebel movement fighting to free Kyrat from Min's oppressive rule. FarCry4-settings Far Cry 4 uses the heavily modified Dunia Engine 2 game engine with Havok physics. The graphics are excellent and the game really pushes the limits of what one can expect from mainstream graphics cards. We set game title to Ultra image quality settings and did not adjust any of the advanced settings. ** It should be noted that AMD does not have a Crossfire Application Profile for Farcry 4 yet. This means that CrossFire does not work for Far Cry 4. From what we have learned from AMD it sounds like Ubisoft needs to make some changes that require a game update before AMD can deliver a smooth mGPU gaming experience. This means gamers will have to wait for AMD/Ubisoft to figure things out before a CrossFire profile makes it out. AMD has a checkbox that allows you to enable Crossfire when there isn't a profile, but AMD has an override that disables the override on this title. farcry4 CPU Usage Far Cry 4 uses about 30% of the processor and is running on multiple cores as you can see from our screen capture above. One core has more of a load on it than the others, but all logical processors are being uses to some degree when playing Far Cry 4. farcry4-average

Benchmark Results: The AMD Radeon R9 290 CrossFire setup averaged 41.57 FPS with Catalyst 14.9 drivers and 76.99 FPS with the latest Catalyst Omega video card drivers. This is a massive improvement, but keep in mind that the Catalyst 14.9 drivers came out months before Far Cry 4 was released and was not optimized for this game titles. This highlights the need to update your video card drivers to ensure the best overall gaming experience with new game titles!

farcry4-time

Benchmark Results: While the average FPS was very different we can see some similarities when we look at the frame rates over time. AMD made obvious optimizations, but the high and low spots are pretty much the same. We were a bit shocked to see our AMD Radeon R9 290 CrossFire setup dip down to under 50 FPS on Far Cry 4, but this game title looks great and puts the GPUs to work!

farcry4-frametimes

Benchmark Results: The standard deviation with Catalyst 14.9 drivers was 4.63 and it was found to be 3.81 with Catalyst Omega video card drivers on our Radeon R9 290 CrossFire setup. This is the highest deviation of the 5 game titles that we looked, but it is a new game title and hopefully AMD is still working on improvements.

Metro Last Light

 

MetroLL-SS

Metro: Last Light is a first-person shooter video game developed by Ukrainian studio 4A Games and published by Deep Silver. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic world and features action-oriented gameplay with a combination of survival horror elements. It uses the 4A Game engine and was released in May 2013. metro-settings Metro: Last Light was benchmarked with very high image quality settings with the SSAA set to off and 4x AF. These settings are tough for entry level discrete graphics cards, but are more than playable on high-end gaming graphics cards. We benchmarked this game title on the Theater level. metroll-cpu-utilization

We again found around 20% CPU usage on Metro: Last Light.

metro-fps Benchmark Results: In Metro: Last Light the Radeon R9 290 Crossfire setup averaged 137.43 with Catalyst 14.9 drivers and 140.08 on Catalyst Omega drivers. This is an improvement of roughly 2 percent. metro-fps-time Benchmark Results: Our manual FRAPS benchmark run showed that we were getting from 70 to 190 FPS on the Radeon R9 290 setup with some pretty good spikes here and there that show the video card was getting stressed pretty good. metro-frametimes Benchmark Results: When you look into frame pacing we can see that there was a slight improvement as the standard deviation went from 1.86 on Catalyst 14.9 drivers to 1.79 on Catalyst Omega. We'll take a 4% performance improvement for free any day.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

AMD Catalyst Omega Driver The AMD Catlayst Omega drivers are the culmination of six months of work and AMD promised big changes. We didn't know what to expect when it came to the performance front, but we were happy to see that a pair of Radeon R9 290 video cards in CrossFire did perform better with the new Catalyst Omega drivers than Catalyst 14.9 drivers. We only tested a handful of game titles, but did find an average Frame Per Second (FPS) improvement in all game titles with the exception of Battlefield 4. The good news is that in all five game titles that we saw improvements when we looked at the frame times and that shows that AMD is still continuing to make frame pacing enhancements. We wish that AMD would release the list of 15 game titles that they made enhancements for, but that hasn't happened yet. We figured that we will just keep writing about it in the hopes that someone at AMD will get annoyed enough and release the list for us! At the end of the day we highly advise our readers to download and install the AMD Catalyst Omega (14.12) drivers and try them out. Our testing showed that performance in five game titles stayed the same or improved. The new features and general bug fixes were also welcomed, but we already talked about those in our overview. If you own a video card older than a Radeon R9 or R7 video card you are well aware that you are missing out on the improvements offered by AMD Catalyst Drivers. AMD told us that they do plan on rolling out many if not all of the AMD Catalyst Omega Drivers to those that own a video card based on GCN (Graphics Core Next) architecture. AMD didn't give us a timeline as they don't want to upset anyone if they miss it, but they are working on expanding these features and improvements to those with slightly older graphics cards. If AMD Catalyst Omega drivers aren't up to your expectations or are giving you issues be sure to let AMD know about it. AMD has a bug submission/feedback form available here and you should use it! Some of our readers in the overview article mentioned that they were having installation issues. We have not experienced this on any of our systems, but there are reports of it happening on numerous sites and forums.