AMD’s Radeon Software Crimson driver is getting quite the buzz for the company recently, instituting a massive overhaul in terms of the user interface and functionality, as well as bringing in new features for Radeon GPU owners. Today, AMD released Radeon Software Crimson 16.3 for Windows platforms, and it comes with more new features and a long-dreamed of ideal for notebook users – standardised external graphics support. Hit the jump for more.
Aside from the new features, which I’ll detail below, AMD’s done some serious work in bug fixes and making their drivers work better for their GPUs. With Crimson 16.3, among the resolved issues is a bug that forced graphics cards to not maintain their rated clock speed while using Crimson drivers, random freezes while running Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, and some other minor bugs from games recently released, including XCOM 2 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Here’s a brief run-down of what’s changing with this release:
- Rise of the Tomb Raider – up to 16% improvement on Radeon R9 Nano, R9 Fury and Fury X series compared to Crimsom 16.2
- Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – up to 60% improvement with R9 Fury series compared to Crimson 16.2.1
- Gears of War: Ultimate Edition – up to 44% improvement with Radeon R9 380 compared to Crimson 16.2.1
- New Crossfire profiles for Hitman and The Park
- General support for Hitman on all supported GPUs
- Standards-compliant Vulkan v1.0 API support
- Per-game Display Scaling: A new feature introduced in Radeon™ Settings that allows per game Display Scaling to be set within the Radeon Settings Gaming tab under “Profile Options”.
- Language Menu: A new feature introduced in Radeon™ Settings that allows the end user to select their preferred language from a drop down menu under the “Preferences -> Language” tab. This feature was requested in the recent AMD Reddit AMA.
- Two Display Eyefinity: Two Display Eyefinity is now an available option under the Eyefinity tab in Radeon™ Settings.
- AMD Crossfire Status Indicator: A new feature in Radeon Settings that allows users to toggle an AMD Crossfire status indicator on their screen when running in AMD Crossfire mode.
- Updated Social Links: New Social links are now available for Radeon Settings home page and have also updated based on geographical region.
- Power Efficiency Toggle: A new feature introduced in the Radeon Settings Gaming tab for select AMD Radeon 300 series and AMD Radeon Fury X available under “Global Options”. This allows the user to disable some power efficiency optimizations.
- AMD XConnect technology: This driver provides initial support for external GPU enclosures configured with Radeon R9 300 Series GPUs are now supported over Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) connections.
AMD also finally added DirectFlip support for DirectX 12 titles, but only for the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark. Given that it is only for one game, and not for DirectX 12 in general, this implies that DirectFlip support must be added in for every DirectX 12 game that has an engine that allows DirectFlip to be invoked by the graphics driver. Interesting…
AMD XConnect Technology
AMD’s reveal of XConnect is a complete surprise, even with the company hinting at it’s arrival a week ago. XConnect is basically a newer, sleeker version of the company’s Enduro graphics switching technology, which is also similar to NVIDIA’s Optimus technology (which I ranted about recently). What XConnect does is similar to Optimus, but it’s also somewhat superior. For one, it supports running games on the discrete, external GPU from the built-in display or through an external monitor, which wasn’t always possible (at least not without some serious fiddling) on previous Thunderbolt implementations. For another, it supports hot-plug and surprise removal, which means that the operating system won’t start flipping tables in rage when you unplug the GPU while it’s still on, although you will see errors and perhaps even a BSOD while removing a GPU that is currently running a program on the desktop.
XConnect also works in a standardised way over Thunderbolt 3 with a Type-C connector because it was designed in conjunction with Intel. Any laptop that supports the proper BIOS extensions for external GPU support will work with an XConnect dock right out of the box. This means that the dream of hooking up a Radeon GPU to a notebook that runs NVIDIA Optimus already will still work anyway. So long as the system is validated to meet the requirements for external graphics setups, it’ll work with any other GPU no matter what. This is a rather nice opportunity for those of you buying laptops that don’t currently support discrete graphics cards – as long as there’s validated support for eGFX enclosures, you can play games on it with that GPU on your internal display.
There’s also a very interesting implication here because everything runs over Thunderbolt 3 When I posed questions to AMD’s Robert Hallock in the recent AMA on Reddit, I asked him the following question, and I’ve included his reply below as well.
Q: FreeSync on a Displayport monitor connected to a Thunderbolt dock… does that work? (see here [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NshXgisNly4 ] at 14:24)
AMD: That depends on how well the dock transports the DP information, and if it is fully compliant with the DP1.2a standard. Should be fine, though.
I knew that external graphics was coming thanks to Intel announcing their intention to make Thunderbolt 3 support it last year, but I didn’t know how useful it would be until watching that linked video of Linus from LinusTechTips using an Elgato Thunderbolt 2 dock. With XConnect, it should be possible to plug your laptop into the eGFX enclosure, and then have a second Thunderbolt 3 port on the enclosure run out to a hub like the one Elgato sells. This means that the Razer Core is not capable of such a setup, but future setups will be, and that’s a fantastic idea that honestly gets me excited. I can imagine ditching my desktop for a laptop plus eGFX enclosure setup already, and it won’t be as limited as other dock setups have been in the past.
Intel’s support for this technology also means that support will eventually come to Linux as well as Mac OS X. I think Apple might have to re-think how they support AMD graphics cards in the future, because this tech is going to change how people buy laptops.
You might think that this setup is weird, but it’ll become necessary very soon. As you might be aware, the Displayport 1.3 specification tops out at UHD 8K (7680×4320) at 30Hz, and currently no-one makes panels of that size or resolution. As with the change to UHD 4K, though, we might see that early displays use a tiled setup of two 4K panels stitched together and addressed as separate monitors, requiring two Displayport 1.2a or 1.3 connections. AMD initially supported tiled 4K displays using this trick, by arranging the two panels in an Eyefinity setup, while NVIDIA’s workaround was much more convoluted, but worked just as well. Other users got this to work on their multi-monitor setups by hacking the feature in the drivers, but it was never officially supported. This setup was fairly common for the first-generation of 4K monitors, and when 8K becomes more than a mere mention in whitepapers, we’ll see the same approach being used to start bringing these monitors to market.
No single GPU is capable of rendering a game at 8K at 30Hz with even low graphics settings currently. However, GPUs released in the near future, like AMD’s Polaris family, or NVIDIA’s Pascal, could probably do it with two very high-end GPUs, and setting up the displays in a tw0-way Eyefinity setup would be the way to go.
Read the release notes: AMD Official Support