AMD has been keeping up its tradition of releasing major new point-releases for their Radeon Software suite at the end of the year, finishing off their work in bringing new features to the platform and starting off with a stable base for the WHQL release that is made available in 2019. It’s a good way to do it – customers get stability from features that are extensively tested, and AMD gets the spotlight to showcase what they’ve been working on. As it happens, Adrenalin 2019 is a major release, and there’s a lot to process in here. While you’re reading this, head on over to AMD’s site to start your driver download.
Let’s take stock of AMD’s performance over the past year. Since the last Adrenalin release, the company has seen anything from 5% to 39% performance improvements in multiple games, and this is on a system tested with a Radeon RX 570. Without any overclocks applied, there’s a sizeable performance improvement just with a driver release. NVIDIA sees the same kind of performance uplift over time, but it’s more difficult with their GeForce releases to summarise improvements year-on-year. AMD touts their launch-day support of new games, and they’ve certainly been keeping up with game releases and their launch drivers.
That 39% improvement for Battlefield 5 is noteworthy for several reasons. DICE recently released patches for the game that increased performance both for the vanilla game and the game with ray tracing enabled for NVIDIA RTX graphics cards. But there’s also the fact that the game only launched in November 2018, and AMD’s performance boost could have been measuring their internal tests compared to the Battlefield 5 beta. The footnotes detailing the tests for slide 13 do note that testing took place on 19 November 2018. A lot of other websites covering this driver release may not pick that up, so keep this in mind when reviewing a manufacturer’s performance claims.
AMD also puts a lot of work into optimisations for eSports titles, and Project ReSX is one endeavour that’s yielding fruit. As a refresher, ReSX is a program designed to improve the latency and response times of popular eSports titles that require quick reaction times and lower latencies. In the past, AMD used tricks like swapping the frame buffers with only one frame queued, or running the game with a high framerate and dropping any frames that ran beyond the monitor’s refresh rate so that tearing, stuttering animations, and judder weren’t a problem. ReSX takes that further and implements game profiling to optimise things like shader performance, frametime delivery, and workarounds to get the click-through latency lower. This work has yielded performance improvements in multiple scenarios, and all games were tested on an Intel Core i7-7700K and an RX Vega 64 graphics card. Neat! Sadly, these improvements are all for Windows-only titles. Linux gamers get the short end of the stick when it comes to latency improvements.
AMD also differentiates itself from NVIDIA and Intel by offering a feedback hub for their graphics driver and promised features or reported bugs. Users can visit the Feedback Hub on the Radeon website and vote for the issues that affect them, and this lets AMD gauge how important some problems are. Funny enough, typing the URL into my browser doesn’t work as I type this, so it’s probably going under some work that will lift when the NDA expires. Let’s talk new features now.
Among the new features discussed today, Game Advisor will be immediately useful to just about everyone. While playing a game, enabling the Radeon Overlay with the hotkey will bring up a new option called Game Advisor. This plots frametimes in real-time, giving you on-the-fly information about your system’s performance while running a game. Game Advisor will also give you some hints and tips to follow to improve performance. Once you make some changes and press the “Test again” button, the advisor will run its test again and report the revised framerate and average frametime. It’s like FRAPs, but more intelligent.
Settings Advisor is a part of Radeon Settings, and it will suggest defaults for your game based on the performance profile AMD has identified, as well as settings they suggest should be tweaked based on testing done by AMD Performance Labs. Using a matrix of hardware features and game settings that have been captured by AMD, you’ll be given recommended settings for your hardware to enable you to have the best experience in-game. This means that AMD has targeted optimum performance on a per-game basis, but what’s unclear from these slides is whether they take into account frame caps in certain games that implement them. This feature is a bit like what GeForce Experience offers to users who sign up for an account to get personalised performance settings.
The final advisor is the Upgrade Advisor. This is a really neat idea, because AMD does work with a lot of game developers and publishers to get their drivers working and out of the gate as early as possible. Who better to make sure that your system is ready for the game than AMD themselves? Again using the database AMD has built up over time of computers running Radeon Settings and the hardware required for a new release, AMD can plot ahead of time what systems will and won’t be able to run certain games at good quality settings, and they’ll suggest upgrades or areas where a system falls short.
Big changes are comming for WattMan, AMD’s configurator for graphics cards. There are now one-click options to enable power-saving features and apply tweaks to lower a GPU’s power draw with a minimal drop in performance, found at the bottom of the WattMan UI. There’s also one-click Auto Overclocking of both the GPU and the memory, which is interesting. AMD isn’t saying exactly how they get to the optimal settings, but presumably there’s been some testing going on behind the scenes in their labs to figure out sane defaults.
Fan control also makes its debut, and for the first time the drivers will enable zero RPM modes for fans. Usually this feature was available on a per-GPU basis and baked into firmware, so this is just a way to control zero-RPM mode without needing to run the GPU vendor’s application. Also new is the ability to control DPM states for the RX Vega family, which means that a bunch of users no longer need to run a third-party app to control power modes for Vega 56 and 64. Memory tuning is also now a feature for some memory-bound, compute-enabled programs profiled by AMD, but there isn’t a comprehensive list of applications that this applies to yet.
AMD has made improvements to Radeon Chill as well, which now supports over 100 games automatically. Chill is a power-saving feature that drops the framerate in-game to save power, but it doesn’t implement any frame limiters or enable V-Sync. Chill requires profile support on a per-game basis, so AMD adds a few games per driver release that support Chill. It’s an optional feature, so if you want your system to run as fast as possible you can turn this off. Chill supports desktop and mobile GPUs, so it’s worthwhile enabling the feature on laptops that include AMD graphics.
There are also display improvements waiting in the wings for AMD fans. FreeSync 2 displays now have improved consistency in games that support HDR. AMD has had to profile games individually to get things like tone mapping and FreeSync 2 support correctly, but this work results in better display quality overall. VSR support is also extended to 21:9 displays, something that was lacking in the Adrenalin release last year. It was possible to create a custom resolution which did the same thing, but some applications didn’t like going that route, and the experience wasn’t great because the density of the pixels tended to make things illegible. Having VSR support in the driver allows for gamers to enable super-sampling across the board in all games that support the 21:9 aspect ratio.
There are also a bunch of quality-of-life improvements for the Radeon ReLive Overlay that don’t need all their individual slides shown here. Menus are tightened up, clicks are reduced, there’s easier access to FreeSync and WattMan controls, performance metrics are more refined so that you can have your frametime counters and overlays display more information, and there are condensed display settings that make things easier to find. It’s good all-round for AMD, so kudos to them for putting in the work to make the basics more accessible.
An enormous amount of work has gone into the AMD Link app, AMD’s companion app for Radeon Software that enables access to the same controls as the ReLive Overlay. It includes quality-of-life improvements that improve usability, include voice control and WattMan options, and ReLive controls to manage your captured video. AMD sees Link as the kind of app that could be run on a tablet for streaming purposes, giving streamers direct access to Radeon Settings without having to enable the overlay to change a setting or save a recent recording.
For streamers, there are new things to look forward to in this release. For one, in-game capture and replays are now supported, and you can view and review these clips while still in-game to check if you caught that epic shot. ReLive is able to keep copies of the last 30 seconds of the game in a cache in system memory, and you can have these replays appear in a picture-in-picture mode on your display without having to leave the game. Neat!
There’s also a scene editor and transition support just like you get in OBS, which means there’s no fiddling around with OBS to get the overlays where you want them. There’s GIF support for those 5-30s clips you made on the fly, which is nice, and there’s also basic editing controls to trim and export the video. There are more accounts for your streams as well, so you can simultaneously stream to multiple platforms straight from Radeon Settings. There’s support for transparent chat overlays, which is nice.
AMD’s headlining feature with this release is game streaming to a mobile device over a local network (although there will be workarounds you can do to play your games over the internet from a remote location). ReLive now offers streaming using the AMD Link app to a supported mobile device, and you get button overlays for touch-based controls that use the XInput API on Windows. It’s not intended as a streaming platform in the same way as Steam In-Home Streaming, Xbox Game Streaming, or Remote Play for the PS4 platform. Instead it’s a pick-up-and-resume sort of affair, giving you the ability to step away from the PC and play on something more portable in a different location. You can, however, launch games remotely and stream them just as easily.
NVIDIA supports this through GeForce Experience, but you need a Shield handheld or Shield TV to do the same thing. AMD’s question, then, is “Don’t you guys have phones?!”, which makes this a much more versatile setup. You can even hook up a supported controller to your mobile device and play without the on-screen controls. For Android phones, this means you’ll have to pick up a Bluetooth controller because older wired and wireless Xbox controllers don’t have XInput support on Google’s platform. If you pick up PlayStation DualShock 4, on the other hand, you’ll have a much easier time getting things working.
AMD’s strategy here with remote streaming also applies to desktop users. Leave home or work with your applications running, and check back on them while you’re out and about or traveling. It’s no replacement for Remote Desktop for sure, but for prosumers and casual users this is a neat way to have GPU-driven desktop streaming for free, where you can work remotely on things that require 3D graphics support. The requirement to use Android 5.0 or iOS 10 and greater hint that AMD is still working on PC-to-PC streaming support.
The allure of having a Threadripper and Vega setup hidden away somewhere to reduce nose, but still have it readily available on your laptop, phone, or tablet is something I’ve personally wanted for years. Remote Desktop has never gotten all the way there with 3D support, but this could be AMD’s chance to deliver a viable alternative to GeForce GameStream with full desktop support. NVIDIA Gamestream doesn’t support PC-to-PC connections, and you need to use third-party applications to get that functionality. But for the moment, you can get desktop streaming to another monitor through Samsung Dex using the AMD Link app.
All of this work done to stream things efficiently brings us to the final feature update. Untethered VR headsets are a thing, and they are coming to market. The methods to do this, however, are still crude. Untethered HMDs require on-board and remote compute resources to function, and this means that the GPU in your desktop needs to take a heavy knock to performance as it encodes and streams video in high quality to your headset. AMD claims to have this down pat with ReLive Streaming for VR, where compatible headsets will be able to use the local wireless network to grab the video feed and still, somehow, relay back input with minimal latency.
I suspect that this is AMD building up to VR Streaming, and that the tech isn’t there yet. A few months back, the WiFi Alliance changed their branding to make it more clear what networks your device supported, up to and including WiFi 6. WiFi 6, however, isn’t a superset that includes the 802.11ad standard, which was designed for use with untethered VR Headsets, which means that using your HTC Vive Focus on a WiFi 5 device is going to be a poor experience. WiFi 6 can still perform just as well, but it’s not designed for that specific, low-latency use case.
If you’re an AMD user, pick up your Adrenalin drivers today at AMD’s website. If you’re keen on picking up a new Radeon GPU for these features, you’ll need an RX 550 or newer on the desktop. AMD also has two promotions ongoing, one of which gives you up to three free games if you’re picking up an RX 590, and three free games if you purchase an RX Vega 56 or 64 from participating retailers.