Looking Back: ATI's Catalyst Drivers Exposed

by Ryan Smith on 12/11/2005 3:22 PM EST


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  • ksherman - Friday, December 16, 2005 - link

    Any chance for a nVidia comparison? Ive ehear that some older drivers were better... Reply
  • semiconductorslave - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    Great, I'll tell the person that bought my videocard three cards ago! Maybe next we could see an article about how adding 3 extra 16k memory cards to the Atari 800 improves games. Reply
  • HWAddict77 - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    Guess what? There is real value in the fact that the people writing these articles actually interact with us to find out what we think. In publishing, web-based or otherwise, that's rare and valuable, and it puts us in a pretty cool position if you ask me. So I think being a smartass is particularly lame. It's not like there are only 20 people reading the articles. Hell, it's not like there are only 1000 people reading them.

    My .02: I would also like to see a similar article with an Nvidia card.
  • semiconductorslave - Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - link

    So your saying we can't use sarcasim to voice our opinions? I totally appreciate this site and all of the reviews, and hope the editors can handle a little bit of facetiousness every now and then. It is my attempt at humor and way of saying that I think this article, being more of a research piece into the history of driver support on an older card, is more academic and not very pragmatic. I'm not saying the author made the following assumtion, but it would be a logical fallacy for a person to assume the future will happen like the past. ATI could have better driver releases in the future, put more resources into it, hire more talented programers, also the hardware is always changing, like dual core CPUs and ring bus memory architectures on graphics cards. So I personaly don't think how the drivers perform on the old 9700pro make much difference to anyone but a person running the old 9700pro. This in turn will limit what games they can run since the newer games take a bit more power, especially with AA enabled, AS filtering, and HDR, so now--once again in my opinion--the article is most helpful to the person running old games on an old card.
    Still I read it.
  • jeffrey - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Ryan Smith,

    Thank you for publishing this article! The whole idea of the article itself is what makes me so happy. It was not another "product release -> generate review" type article. This article stepped-out of that mold and required thinking of an idea and then testing to find the result. Kudos!

    What made the article an A+ was that the results were not there. To clarify, I should say expected results. ATI has been promising increase after increase, but after several generations, there just was not a whole lot there.

    ATI has impressed with monthly driver releases, but performance gains are limited. I am NOT disapointed with the results. ATI's claims for driver improvements are rarely across the board. More often than not, the claim of a gain is focused on a particular generation, segment, or resolution.

    One important fact that was left out of the review was compatibility. A central focus of each Catalyst release is fixing bugs to make the drivers more stable. The commitment from the Catalyst crew to providing incremental optimizations has mainly been secondary this year to resolving driver issues. The graphs might show an image that looks like not a whole lot has been done. However, if you included a total of bug fixes from Catalyst 3.0 to 5.12 the image of that graph would be impressive indeed.

    ATI's monthly Catalyst updates have been invaluable to their reputation as a provider of graphics solutions. How many companies have checked-in and checked-out within a couple of years due to drivers never "maturing". ATI has a positive image today in regards to drivers and that alone is a barrier to entry for new competition.

    I could go on and on, but if by chance you get down to my post please feel free to pat yourself on the back and share this with Anand.

    Thanks again,
  • timmiser - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    I agree. This article was definitely outside the mold and nothing like this had been done before. (To see driver improvements over years instead of months.)

  • Nighteye2 - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Nice article. Now I want to see the same test for Nvidia drivers :)
  • MrJim - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Mr Ryan Smith>It would be nice to see a flightsim or a racing sim! Maybe a newer one with impressive graphics like Lock-On/Lo-Mac(Flightsim) for example. Interesting article! Reply
  • ShadowVlican - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    now to anyone that still says ATi has bad drivers... i will refer them to this review (6) Reply
  • bldckstark - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    I don't see where this proves they have GOOD drivers either. They had on average some minor improvements in FPS and fixed some IQ issues. Yes there were some nuggets of enlightenment, but overall the greatest increase was in eventually eliminating a huge IQ flaw in soft lighting. Reply
  • timmiser - Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - link

    That is why they are so good. It shows that the early drivers are already well opitimized and that there is not much improvement over the months/years from driver release to driver release.

    Nvidia on the other hand, will have a driver release (typically around the launch of a competing ATI card) that all of a sudden shows a 25% gain or some ungodly number like that. This shows us that either A) Nvidia didn't do a very good job with opitimizing their drivers prior to that big speed increase, or B) held the card back some via the driver so that they could raise the speed upon any threat (new release) by ATI.

    Either way, it reflects poorly on Nvidia.
  • DerekWilson - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    lots of people have requested more modern games.

    our goal at the outset was to go back as far as possible with the drivers and select a reasonable set of games to test. most modern games don't run on older drivers, so we didn't consider them.

    for future articles of this nature, we will be including a couple modern games (at the very least, half-life 2 and doom 3). we will handle the driver compatibility issue by starting with the oldest driver that supports the game.

    very new games like FEAR won't be useful because they've only got a driver revision or two under their belt. Battlefield 2 is only about 6 months old and isn't really a suitable candidate either as we can't get a very good look at anything. My opinion is that we need to look at least a year back for our game selection.

    thanks for the feedback. we're listening, and the next article in the series will definitely incorporate some of the suggestions you guys are making.
  • Cygni - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    I cant belive people missed this point. I thought it was pretty obvious in the text of the article. Throwing teh gaem of teh futar at a videocard running drivers from 1997 is going to have obvious consequences. That doesnt give you anyway to measure driver performance increases over time, whatsoever. Reply
  • nserra - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    I agree.

    But I think the best candidate would be the R200 (8500) for testing,
    since everyone said it was a good card (hardware) with bad drivers (software).

    So a good retro test is how the R200 would standup with recent drivers VS nvidia geforce 3/4 with the older games.
    The all idea is to see if 8500 could keep up with geforce 3/4 if it had good drivers.

    2002/2003 games | radeon8500 card | 2002/2003 driver
    2002/2003 games | geforce3/4 card | 2002/2003 driver

    2002/2003 games | radeon8500 card | 2005 driver
    2002/2003 games | geforce3/4 card | 2005 driver

    2004/2005 games | radeon8500 card | 2005 driver
    2004/2005 games | geforce3/4 card | 2005 driver
  • JarredWalton - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    The problem is that the R200 is no longer acceptable for even moderate gaming. If you have a 9700 Pro, you can still get reasonable performance on almost any modern game. Yes, you'll need to drop to medium and sometimes even low quality settings, but a 9700 Pro is still three or four times (or more) as fast as the best current IGP.

    I'm not working on these articles, but personally I have little to no interest in cards that are more than 3 generations old. It might be intersting to study from an academic perspective, but for real-world use there's not much point. If enough people disagree with this, though, I'm sure Ryan could write such an article. :)
  • Hardtarget - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Neat article idea but I would deffinitely of thrown in one more game, a modern one. Probably Half Life 2, see how it does on teh older hardware in general, and see what sort of driver revisions do for it. Would of been pretty interesting. Reply
  • Avalon - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    I think Far Cry, HL2, and Doom 3 ought to be tested. I remember running those games on my 9700 pro. Far Cry and D3 ran just fine at 10x7, and HL2 ran great at 12x9. I'm pretty sure quite a few people were using these cards before upgrading, in these games. Reply
  • WileCoyote - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    My conclusion after seeing the numbers: ATI prefers directing money/man-power/time/resources towards synthetic benchmarks rather than improving game performance. I consider THAT cheating. Reply
  • Questar - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Explain the image quality increases then.

    Or do you consider nvidia lowering image quality from generation to generation an improvment?
  • Jedi2155 - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Explain the Halo benchmark then? Reply
  • WileCoyote - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Easy, ATI was a Halo for PC launch partner. This was before the "Best Played with ATI" or "Insist on NVidia" days but ATI was the graphics card sponsor for the game. So they had a committment to Bungie/Microsoft.... not really to the customer. I'm not complaining because they're businesses and they want to make money. I just consider it cheating. Halo benchmark explained. Next? Reply
  • GameManK - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    well done, but it did feel like a bit of a waste of time reading

    something like farcry or half life 2 i think would be a more useful test
  • Googer - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Nice article, it must have taken a lot of time and effort to do this. Ryan how long did it take you to do all of these driver installs (then reboot) and benchmark them 72 Time?

    Thanks for the effort!
  • Googer - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Could you also test 3rd party drivers like Omega and others I have forgotten about? Then could you compaire them to Stock ATI drivers? Reply
  • nullpointerus - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Aren't the Omega drivers just a mix of different official ATI driver files? Reply
  • Humble Magii - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    Seriously another craptastic article on drivers? Guys please sit down and think before you post an article and give it actual thought maybe ask some people around you god forbid.

    This site is sucking huge.

    If you are going to do an article such as this use both competitors and go through each revision or at least a major revision to the drivers on each core and card.

    Again stop posting worthless articles someone at Anandtech please take control and scrutinize what your people write and do before posting. Don't they have a set process there?

  • Cygni - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    "If you're disappointed with the free entertainment on this site, fine, write about it on your shitty Angelfire Dragonball Z site or send AIM messages to the other Korn fanclub members." Reply
  • Cygni - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    Ok, so what ive learned is you are reading a site that you think is "sucking huge", pretty making you a retard.

    Please sit down and think before you write such a fucking pointless post. God forbid there are people out there who are actually interested in video card driver performance.

    Do you have any idea how long it takes to run through these tests? "Oh, just do both companys! And do all their cards! And do every CPU/motherboard/memory/timings setting too!... oh, and give it to me for free!"

    What a joke dude. Go find your cave asshole, or go to some other hardware website.
  • VIAN - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Is this article that important? I didn't think there was enough content in the article to make it worth reading. Plus, the way you built it up in the introduction seemed to give less meaning to the article when we found that there wasn't that much of an increase in half the games you tested. It also seemed like most of the big performance boosting optimizations took place within the first few drivers for the R300. To prove your point, it might have been better to make a shorter article covering various games, but use only 2 drivers, the current and the earliest.

    And where's that long lost image quality article we were promised about a year ago?
  • Jedi2155 - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    But then, it wouldn't show the slight improvements of the driversets like the 3.00 tothe 3.04. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    With this article series, we're especially looking for feedback guys. We can't test every last game under the sun because of how long it would take, but if there's something you guys would like to see and a good reason for it, we'd like to hear about it for possible inclusion in a future regression. Reply
  • Questar - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link


    Learn to proofread.
  • Cygni - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link


    Dont be an asshole.
  • Scrogneugneu - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    I would like to see that kind of test on another, more recent card.

    Why? Simply to test what the first driver revisions do in term of performance. The article already shows that later in the driver's life, there is little improvement made on performance... but that on early drivers, there is usually a good jump. Could it be possible to test with a newer card, with the drivers available at launch and up from there?

    That way we could have a better idea of what to expect when we hear ATI or NVidia saying "we will optimise the drivers after the launch". Does every optimisation happens in the first release, the second, the five first... what release usually brings the best improvements, both on IQ and FPS?

    Could be nice to see such an article :)
  • timmiser - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    I don't think that would work because the older drivers (ie-Cat 3.0, Cat 4.0) won't support the newer card. Reply
  • Scrogneugneu - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    Well, if you use the drivers available at the launch of the card up to the current release, I'm pretty sure they will all be compatible with the card, won't they? ;)

    The goal is not to see what improvements were made with Catalyst 3.0 to 5.12, but to see what improvements were made from the first driver available for the card to the latest. More importantly, to see WHEN were they made.
  • timmiser - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    Well yes, you could do that, but then you have just a typical article about driver improvements over the last 5 or 6 months which every hardware site has done over and over again. What makes this article unique is they take an older video card and review older drivers so that we can see the driver improvement effect over the span of years instead of months. Reply
  • Scrogneugneu - Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - link

    By more recent card, I didn't mean a ATI X1x00 card or a NVidia 7x00.

    I was more talking about something like the Xx00 series. These cards have seen a great number of driver release, and are still pretty recent.

    Besides, this article showed us that the only improvements seen were generally at the early stage of the development of the drivers, or at that least later in the works, there's not much difference. So, we can assume that a year of different driver revisions would be enough to show us what kind of improvements are made.
  • timmiser - Wednesday, December 14, 2005 - link

    Exactly, which is all information we didn't know until this article showed that. Reply
  • oopyseohs - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    The Athlon64 you used was socket 754, not 757. =] Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    You should see the cooler attached, it sure sounds like a 757.

    Anyhow, good catch, thanks.
  • ss284 - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    I think this article might have been a bit more meaningful if some newer generation games were tested, like half life 2 and far cry.

  • ElJefe - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    lol yes I thought the same.

    I was like eh? bf2 and half-life2 and doom3. Or quake 4 maybe. ( even though most gamers are not on that bandwagon yet, bf2 for first person is kinda king still)
  • Cygni - Tuesday, December 13, 2005 - link

    Older drivers are going to have issues with newer games. Thats whats talked about in the article. If you are running Cat 1.0's with FEAR, its going to go ape shit... FEAR wasnt even around when those drivers came out. By using older games, they can limit this factor and make it a pure perforamnce comparison. Reply
  • ksherman - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    :( Reply
  • vshah - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Mouseover makes the first image dissapear for me in firefox and ie.

    Will there be an nvidia version of this?
  • kerynitian - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    I would definitely be interested in seeing how nvidida and their driver improvements in the nv40 line related to the marks put up by ati in this article... Reply
  • coldpower27 - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Yes it might be interesting to do one with a 6800 GT/Ultra, to see if there have been improvements of extracting performance out of NV40 technology over the past now 18 months of life.

    I think we were in the early 61.xx when NV40 came out?
  • nts - Monday, December 12, 2005 - link

    With this article testing on the R300 they would probably test NVIDIA NV30 (FX) cards.
  • coldpower27 - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Actually I beleive that is ~ 20 months instead of 18. Reply
  • n7 - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Yeah the mouseover is borked.

    Interesting review.
  • JayHu - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    In the article you refer to driver revisions 3.4 and 3.6, but the labelling on your axis reads 3.04, 3.06. Took me a couple glances to figure out what you meant. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Fixed, we had to improvise on the graphing engine(which has to sort by something) so the 0's were thrown in without thinking to change the article. Thanks. Reply
  • microAmp - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Mouseover ain't workin' with IE & FF.
  • Howard - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Doesn't work with Opera, either. Reply
  • BigLan - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    Broken here as well w/ IE Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    It should be working now guys, our managing editor was puting it up earlier and it somehow went live a bit early. Reply
  • reactor - Sunday, December 11, 2005 - link

    same thing going on here, picture disappears when i try to mouseover. interesting article though, good stuff :) Reply

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