Adios, Catalyst: Meet Radeon Software Crimson, AMD’s slick new software hub

2 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

AMD Radeon Software Crimson announced, replaces CCC.

Advanced Micro Devices formed a stand-alone graphics chip division, Radeon Technologies Group, to better focus on all things graphics. Now it is launching new software, dubbed Radeon Software Crimson, that will effectively be a “mini operating system for graphics” on your home PC. RTG today declared that software is as important as hardware, and has followed through on a new design philosophy to provide; an enjoyable, fast and fun EXPERIENCE, simple, powerful and modern FORM, and intuitive, innovative and interactive FUNCTION. Fronted by Raja Koduri, a veteran of both AMD (and formerly ATI) and graphics engineering generally, the aim of the RTG is to reorganize everything graphics-related within AMD into a streamlined, vertically integrated structure as part of a renewed focus on this aspect of the fiscally troubled firm. The move is the latest effort by AMD to cater to the tastes of players of PC games, which are a $33.7 billion market in 2015, according to market researcher Newzoo.

While cynics have been quick to theorise that this is in preparation for a spin off and sale of the graphics division, such murmurings remain rumours for now. At the time, AMD told us it has major changes planned for its driver and software stack, and we’re seeing the first of those updates announced today.

Today, AMD is announcing another big change, and this one affects a piece of software that many of you reading this have running on your systems right now—assuming there’s a Radeon in that rig of yours. Three key areas have emerged as a focus for the RTG: new technologies like DirectX 12 and virtual reality, efficiency, especially of future products, and software. Rising from its ashes is Radeon Software Crimson—a seriously slick program ready to go toe-to-toe with Nvidia’s vaunted GeForce Experience, buoyed by interesting new features like per-game overclocking and one-click Eyefinity configuration. “Software is the first thing people see on their screen, the first part of their experience,” says AMD’s Sasa Marinkovic. Users will be greeted by a new brushed metal UI design with a significantly faster startup time, more intuitive navigation of settings, a new game manager, new overdrive facilities and new video, display and AMD Eyefinity technology.

AMD is calling this new software suite “Radeon Software Crimson Edition.” As brand initiatives go it’s…. well, honestly, it’s pretty terrible. The latest Radeon Software replaces what was previously known as the AMD Catalyst Control Center, and it is meant to compete with rival Nvidia’s GeForce Experience. (AMD’s Catalyst software has been downloaded more than 1 billion times). We’ve also got a quote to share that also helps put things into perspective, “AMD has been delivering graphics drivers for the past 20+ years, and during this time the graphics driver evolved way beyond the graphics device driver. However, while previous big Catalyst launches like Never Settle and Omega have received positive feedback, this is such a big change, according to AMD, that an entirely new name is needed.

Alas, AMD didn’t provide journalists with a beta build of the software, as it won’t be ready until sometime before the holidays, so I can’t speak to it firsthand. For me that was the biggest irk with CCC, why it took longer to start up than Adobe Illustrator… AMD waxes lyrical about the new UI, but it’s harder to quantify its benefits without hands-on time and UI appeal is often pretty subjective. That way, you can judge for yourself whether AMD’s self-proclaimed pursuit of simplicity and intuitiveness paid off. “Crimson” doesn’t replace Catalyst; “Radeon Software” does. “Crimson” is the name for the major 2015/2016 release of Radeon Software, similar to how last year’s was dubbed Omega. Periodic driver updates—AMD hopes to push about six WHQL-certified drivers per year going forward, not tied to an email registration, though it promises more details in coming weeks—will be designated by a “year.month” date stamp. Of course, minor driver updates with performance tweaks and bug fixes will still occur throughout the year with the format year.month i.e. version 15.11 for this month.

Looking at further configurable settings, users have access to new and customisable optimised video profiles, more AMD FreeSync technology, Virtual Super Resolution one-click Eyefinity settings, and GPU Scaling settings. Naturally, this too needed a new name, so those creative thinkers got to work again and Radeon Settings was born (or FirePro Settings for professional graphics customers).

As you can see, it’s built around several straightforward sections: Gaming, video, display, Eyefinity, and system info reside across a bar at the top, while information about preferences, notifications from AMD, and available updates gather at the bottom. In a first for either company, AMD will also offer per-game overclocking support, with individual user-created profiles for these modes as well: Exactly which features will be folded into game profiles is still a matter of conjecture. AMD is also emphasizing a new Eyefinity setup mode that’s meant to simplify and streamline the multi-monitor setup process and to make it easier to use advanced functions like FreeSync or video processing. This is another area where improvements could be made — the Catalyst Control Panel may have evolved acceptably well, but it was no triumph of UI engineering and graphics cards have become much more complex than they used to be. And the video manager will feature several optimized profiles for various video types (sports, classic cinema, home video, outdoor, etc.) and also allow for easy customization.

If your graphics card can handle most games without breaking a sweat, but needs a little extra oomph to hit that sweet, sweet 60 frames per second on a particularly beefy title, you can now configure the game’s profile to kick in overclocking on that title alone, rather than universally. AMD isn’t planning to ditch its Gaming Evolved (aka Raptr) application any time soon, so users hoping to see integrated video recording in a single application are out-of-luck. The Overdrive menu returns, with a similar feature set to what’s already offered in CCC, but the new Overdrive menu is revamped with the same design aesthetic that graces the rest of the Radeon Software suite. Crimson will scan for titles automatically and populate your list of installed games, but it’s not clear that the driver performs any kind of one-button optimizations (those features are presumably reserved for the Gaming Evolved app).

Clicking on the Demo option in the upper-right “toggles a split-screen demo mode,” presumably so you can preview the visual difference between various profiles. While DX12 changes the nature of game optimization, driver support for DX11 titles will continue to matter for years to come, and AMD has historically lagged Nvidia in this arena. Each monitor in your setup is represented, with some quick-action options for each. (Obviously, if your hardware doesn’t support a particular feature—like FreeSync —it’ll be grayed-out.) Both the More and Additional Settings options in the upper right reveal more detailed screen-tweaking options.

AMD has said that Crimson will be available to download before the end of the year — calling the last major Catalyst push “Omega” ended up being a little more accurate than we may have thought 12 months ago The most notable feature here is a new Quick Setup option, which, with a single click, automatically configures your multi-monitor setup—no muss, no fuss. Crimson won’t be available until sometime later in the fourth quarter, and when it does land, it’ll be restricted to Windows alone—though the fact that it’s based on the cross-platform Qt architecture hints that it could spread further as time goes on.

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