Over the last four years, AMD has done a lot of work to not only reinvent their corporate image but also their consumer image as well. Because the face of the company to consumers is their products and services, they’ve taken time to rethink the way they do things, in particular staging product rollouts better and rewriting their software stack. The latter effort is what we’re getting an update for today, and it’s called Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition.
Adrenalin is a new path for AMD and another rework and rethink of their software strategy. In the past, they had codenames for their software project based on variations of the colour red. I was personally looking forward to “Radeon Software Magenta” or “Radeon Software Alizarin”. “Wine” is even a shade of red, and AMD is starting to see the sense in embracing the “FineWine” meme. Adrenalin, as AMD’s Scott Wasson notes, is meant to excite gamers and professionals who use AMD products.
In terms of performance, AMD promises that Adrenalin will be a big boost over the original version of Radeon Software Crimson ReLive, which launched around a year ago. Using a Radeon RX 480 as an example, there are double-digit improvements across the board, with Prey seeing the biggest boost thanks to AMD’s relationship with Arkane Studios to polish and optimise the game for their hardware. It should be noted that some of these improvements come from earlier driver releases and not just Adrenalin specifically, so it’s not like AMD has been holding back on anything. If you’re the kind of person to update your drivers once a year because interim releases risked stability, you’re going to get a nice performance boost from this.
Latency is also an issue for games (and most of the attention is paid to latency in the display chain from game engine to the monitor), and AMD has been working to reduce their latency in popular titles through engine and driver optimisations. These improvements seem small, but when you’re playing at refresh rates higher than 60Hz, the lower response time is something that will benefit twitch shooters and fast-paced games.
With Adrenalin, AMD adds a few features that have been in the works for years but never materialised or worked properly in previous driver releases. Frame Rate Target Control (FRTC) now supports games running on the Vulkan renderer, which means that titles like DOOM and Wolfenstein II are now able to be managed with the drivers and will see increases in power efficiency. Compute Profiles also make an appearance, allowing users to switch the driver modes from something that optimises for game performance, or general compute purposes. This stems from work done in the drivers for the Radeon Vega Pro graphics cards aimed at industry professionals, which included a mode to switch from gaming to one better suited for compute and video production. It also happens to benefit miners, so that’s fun.
Borderless Windowed Multi-GPU support is also here finally, and this was an important one for several reasons. On Windows 10, games sold through the Windows Store like Forza Motorsport 7, Gears of War 4, and the like all run in borderless windowed mode by default, because this is how the Universal Windows Platform works and allows for seamless transitions from app to app. It’s also the only way Microsoft could implement their Xbox game overlay, although it has now been improved to also work on games running full-screen. This feature was necessary for playing AAA games from the Windows Store on systems with dual graphics cards, and it’s nice to see the feature finally here.
For this release, AMD has also made changes to their work on the Linux driver. The version of the drivers on Windows and on Linux isn’t the same, hence why the Linux drivers aren’t called “Adrenalin”, but the changes are significant. For one, AMD is fairly close to having their display drivers and kernel optimisations accepted into the Linux kernel, which is necessary to provide basic support for all hardware features across all distributions. But this was always convoluted to set up, and required jumping through a few hoops to get things working. Today that changes because users on an enterprise-level distribution can download and install a single suite of drivers, and switch between open and closed-source driver support depending on their needs.
That makes the choice slightly more complicated because this only applies to some distributions for now, and none of the installation options are consumer-friendly (terminal commands make people uneasy these days because they’re not used to it). It’s a step in the right direction, though, and it solves a lot of setup headaches. Also new is the open-source Vulkan driver. This is AMD’s full driver stack for the Vulkan renderer, and it’ll be open-sourced for the first time. This will allow third parties to customise the driver as they see fit for themselves, as well as allowing other developers to improve the stack’s security and to include contributions from third parties to add new features.
There are efficiency improvements in the drivers for everyone on supported GPUs, and I’m really happy to see the Radeon Chill initiative get more attention. Through the use of AMD’s profiling tools and submissions from developers, Radeon Chill adds support for more than a hundred games, lowering power consumption by up to 60%. If you’re unfamiliar with Radeon Chill, what’s happening here is AMD is optimising power delivery to the GPU based on the game that’s running. You don’t need the full power of a RX Vega 56 to run Borderlands 2 at 60fps, and you likewise won’t need to run full speed for Rocket League because it’s such a lightweight title. These are massive improvements, which bode well for gamers who like to run their hardware cool with much quieter fan profiles.
Radeon Wattman also gets a sharing feature. You can now save and load profiles for your specific GPU, allowing you to tweak the fan curves, the frequency and voltage settings, and even the power states, and you can share these with other users who have the same GPU. It’s been one of my pet peeves that I have to always readjust my settings when moving from one driver version to another, and this fixes that.
Enhanced Sync is now generally available on all GCN-era hardware as well, running from the very first card in the family, the Radeon HD 7970, all the way to the most recent card in the family, the Radeon RX 550. Enhanced Sync is a feature where your games are allowed to run at an uncapped framerate, but it won’t display more frames than what your monitor can handle, dropping the frames that fall outside of the monitor’s refresh rate to avoid tearing. These frames are dropped just after the game engine is finished rendering them, which means that no extra work is done on those discarded frames. It’s a really neat feature, and means there’ll be a lot less tearing for games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which professional gamers run at uncapped framerates to reduce the input latency and gain advantages over their opponents.
By far the biggest changes came from Radeon ReLive, AMD’s game capture and streaming software. AMD says they recognise that setting up streams and getting things just right has been a source of frustration for gamers in the past, and ReLive aims to change that. For starters, the Connect tab in the drivers includes a gallery of your previous recordings, allowing you to trim and edit them with basic options for exports, uploading your videos to connected social media accounts, and even queuing video uploads according to timers. Facebook, Youtube, Twitch, Mixer (a Microsoft service, no less!), Sina Weibo (a Chinese-based Youtube-like service), Twitter, Youku, and Stage Ten are all supported.
Chat integration is a thing now. ReLive will integrate the chat feed from Twitch, Facebook, Mixer, or Youtube, and display them in a small area on your screen with a transparency effect. It’s a neat way to have near real-time comments on your videos without using a second display for them, and it’s more elegant in my opinion. There are some performance increases as well, with ReLive now impacting in-game framerates by less than 3% across the board. The hits keep coming with support for Vulkan titles, borderless region capture support (really nice for tutorials), chroma key support for background removal in webcasts, support for running games in Eyefinity across multiple monitors, separated audio tracks for greater control in post-production, and support for Stage TEN, a browser-based streaming manager that is more user-friendly than OBS.
Freesync now gets a per-game option for.. reasons. I actually can’t think of why you’d want to disable it, but some people apparently voted for this capability. Theme support also arrives with three new options to choose from. I like the yellow one the most, it’s very understated.
We’re almost done, everyone.
The other area which received a rework is the Radeon Software overlay. This had some use in previous driver releases, but it didn’t do a lot. Adrenalin has a brand new overlay that does a heck of a lot of new things. For one, it now includes a performance monitoring overlay similar to that in MSI Afterburner, showing your GPU usage and in-game performance stats. Logging features as well, which makes it a great option for replacing FRAPS and other in-game performance tools.
New options exist for saving gameplay in snippets or beginning a recording or stream, with hotkey support. There are also options for changing Radeon Chill settings in-game, turning FreeSync on or off, altering the FRTC settings and making changes to the colour settings. This is way more control in-game than what you get with NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience, and it may be what AMD needs to pull streamers onto their platform. I’ve used ReLive for several things myself, and the end result is a video file without artifacts and a small footprint. This is just the icing on the cake.
Finally, AMD announced a companion app called AMD Link. Link connects to your PC and gives you some off-screen options for managing your hardware as well as Radeon ReLive functions. It’s not that fully-featured just yet because there’s a lot of things it can’t do that the driver control panel can, but it’s another option that gives users control, and that’s the entire point of its release. Giving people options for how they can interface with their PC is something that people value more than anything else, and for this AMD must be commended. It’ll be interesting to see how AMD Link evolves and adds more features over time, and what they’ll do next with it.