AMD today launched their Radeon Software Crimson drivers, and they bring a massive UI and performance overhaul to the table, for both old and new games, on Windows systems (a Linux release still hasn’t been detailed at the time of writing). I had about a week’s worth of hands-on time with the driver before the official release today, and I’d like to walk you through a few aspects of the new interface that I found personally interesting.
So this is the main window, the one that first pops up after you’ve launched the Radeon Settings app from your taskbar or system tray. This replaces the interface for Catalyst Control Center, which was slow and laggy towards the end of its life. The new UI is responsive and quite good, and I’m liking it so far.
The interface scales pretty well to any size, and does all of the button conversions on the fly. This is very useful for notebooks with low resolutions, and it fits perfectly well on a display with a native resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels.
Interestingly, the new Radeon Settings app does not feature any jump list controls, which is something that I hoped AMD would implement thanks to being on a clean slate. The app is also called “CNext”, or “Catalyst Next”, which is probably a holdover from the original codename that AMD was using during development. It’s possible that all of this work was pretty much done before Raja Kodouri took over the graphics division, so it’s interesting to think about what must have happened internally to prompt a move away from the laggy, but stable, Catalyst UI.
The gaming side of things is the focus of AMD’s driver team and also the first tab, so we head there to start. Here, all the games installed to your C: drive are automatically picked up and scanned, and added into the database on the first run. You can add specific games or application to this list, and you can configure various settings for them individually, or have a global setting for everything. Any executable file can be added here, and it’ll take on the file name as defined in the .exe properties, as well as the application’s default icon, if it has one.
You can also launch games from the UI here, which is neat. For Steam games the software is designed to launch the game using the Steam app ID, while for Origin and Uplay, those games seem to be launched via a shortcut that Radeon Settings makes for itself. That’s only a problem really if you have Origin or Uplay games installed to a drive that isn’t the C: drive – you might have to add those games into the list manually by locating the .exe files yourself.
Clicking on a game brings you to the per-game application settings, where you can configure a lot of settings that take precedent over the game’s settings internally. You can tweak just about everything that was previously available in CCC, but the new options are the Shader cache option and frame rate target control (FRTC). Some games will have shader caching turned on by default, while others won’t, so you’ll either have to apply it as a global rule, or change it for each game separately.
FRTC is also very useful because you can set what the maximum allowed framerate for this specific game will be. Civilization V doesn’t need to go faster than 60fps, so I’ve set it to that now (the image above shows that FRTC is disabled by default for all games).
Per-game overclocking is new to AMD, and it isn’t yet available on NVIDIA’s Geforce Experience software yet (though they might add it in the future). Here you can change the clock speeds, power profiles, and fan profiles for each game that you want to tweak. If you’re playing a console port that only needs to run at 30fps, for example, you can use FRTC to set the limit to 30fps, and adjust the power control setting to a value low enough that allows the game to run at a smooth 30fps, while using less power on the GPU side of things. This works for APUs as well as discrete graphics cards on the desktop, and will be a huge benefit to laptop gamers who are sometimes away from a wall socket and want to run games while using the battery.
Unfortunately, AMD doesn’t offer a check box to run a second profile for games running off the laptop’s battery, so you’ll have to manually make these adjustments every time you do play off the battery. Hopefully they’ll fix that in the future. I also tried to change the clock speeds and power profiles while running Civ V, and it all worked pretty well, with no driver or game crashes in my testing.
The video tab is rather sparse, offering only a selection of pre-set profiles for watching video, with a custom option that gives you access to the settings which each profile ends up changing. The sharpness and steady video options end up delivering some of the same smooth play and sharp visuals seen with custom filters like MadVR. This setting also works for APUs, so those of you considering a home theatre PC setup might want to check this out before you make your decision. Personally, this does nothing for me, since I watch all my media on a PS4 on another display.
Also, I really like the slight transparency applied to the UI. It reminds me a lot of the later versions of Nero Burner, which had a slide for setting the UI’s transparency. Also, Star Wars!
Speaking of displays, here’s the settings page for that. Here you can turn FreeSync on or off per display, or VSR on or off, as well as GPU scaling and the scaling mode for each display. This is much better than the arrangement in CCC, and not burying the GPU scaling option under layers of menu options is appreciated. It should be noted that VSR hasn’t worked for any of the displays that I’ve tested with these drivers that have VGA outputs, so you’re going to have to make use of a straight DVI connection at the very least. Once turned on, you can change the resolution settings inside the relevant control panel setting for Windows.
Since I don’t have three monitors hooked up to my system, or at least two monitors with identical resolutions, I’m not able to test out, or look at, the Eyefinity options. Other sites looking at this release more comprehensively will be able to do that. Where the head scratching begins for the display options, though, is in that link on the top-right corner that says “Additional Settings”.
Selecting that option opens up a new window that uses the old .net interface associated with the Catalyst UI. Here you can change some of the more nuanced monitor settings that AMD couldn’t, or didn’t want to, fit into the new UI interface. There are some menus here that only work well in the older app, which is why I don’t think it’s too much of an issue because most people won’t be spending their time in here. Though I’m unable to create a two-display Eyefinity setup on the main app, I’m still able to force it using the Additional Settings menu option.
This is also where you can configure the custom resolution that you’d like to use on your monitor. Monitor overclocking hasn’t been a very big trend since I last looked at it, but there are still people out there sitting with a 60Hz display that could be easily driven to 85Hz without artifacting by using an application like CRU. Like CRU and NVIDIA’s approach to this in the Geforce control panel, you can alter every aspect of the display’s timing to give you potentially more peformance. If you know your panel is capable of 100Hz, you can key in that variable and the driver will do its best to figure out the other settings needed to make it work. It’s really slick, and something sorely needed because applications like CRU don’t always work.
That’s all for my hands-on with Radeon Software Crimson Edition. If you’re currently using an AMD GPU, download these drivers and see how they work for you, and let us know in the comments if you have any success with these drivers. In my testing I’ve seen little to no difference in my gaming experience, which is probably the best that I could have hoped for.
Further reading: AMD Community
Download the drivers: AMD Support