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Drivers & ISV Relations

As we noted last week with the release of the Catalyst 12.1 preview, AMD has a lot of technical and reputational debt to dig themselves out of when it comes to their Catalyst drivers. AMD dropped the ball this fall a number of times, failing to deliver on appropriate drivers for Rage, Battlefield 3, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in a timely manner. This isn’t something AMD is shying away from either – they know they screwed up and they’ll admit as much – but the question remains of how they intend to improve from there. Now that they once again have the leading single-GPU video card they need to have the leading drivers to run it.

Part of this redemption will come from the addition of new features, if only to reach parity with NVIDIA. Catalyst 12.1 introduced custom application profiles, while as we discussed with Eyefinity, Catalyst 12.2 will add to AMD’s suite of Eyefinity features with custom resolutions and the ability to relocate the Windows task bar. Furthermore AMD has features in the development pipeline for their Catalyst drivers for introduction later this year, but at this point it’s too early to talk about them.

 

But new features alone can’t fix every single thing that has ailed AMD in the past year, so the question remains: how does AMD intend to fix their poor delivery of optimized drivers for new games? It’s a question AMD cannot (or will not) completely answer in detail, but it’s a question for which there’s at least part of an answer.

The fundamental answer is more. More developers, more quality assurance, and above all more money. By all accounts NVIDIA sinks a lot of money into driver development and ISV and it usually shows. AMD is going to spend more resources on driver development at home and this is going to help a great deal, but at the same time it would seem that they’ve finally come to realize that great ISV relationships require that AMD be more proactive than how they’ve been in the past.

ISV relations covers a large umbrella of activities. Not only does this mean providing support to developers who request it, but it means providing cross-promotion marketing, encouraging developers to make use of your features (if only to help spur the creation of the killer app), and actively seeking out important development houses so that AMD’s interests and concerns are represented and represented early. It’s been said that the most important thing NVIDIA ever did with ISV relations was to send out their own engineers to development houses on their own dime to provide free support – essentially investing at least a small amount of money into a major game. The payoff of this was that NVIDIA was literally there to represent their interests, and conversely they had a chance to evaluate the game early and get to work on optimizations and SLI support well before it shipped. Snark about TWIMTBP aside, that’s where NVIDIA has raised the bar with ISV relations. That’s what AMD needs to follow.

To that extent AMD has reorganized the budget process for their ISV relations department. Neal Robison, the director of ISV relations, now directly controls a much larger ISV relations budget, whereas previously the ISV relations budget was apparently controlled by several parties. Having more funding for ISV relations won’t solve AMD’s issues on its own – It’s all about how that money is spent – but clearly AMD is on the right path by being able to afford to be more proactive about their ISV relationships.

Whether these changes will pay off as AMD is expecting them to remains to be seen, but from our discussions it’s apparent that AMD is trying harder than ever before. A great product requires good hardware and good software; AMD has the former in Tahiti, now it’s time to see if they can deliver on the latter.

Closing out the subject of drivers, AMD is also using the Southern Islands launch to outline their plans for Windows 8. AMD is promising that they will deliver drivers for Windows 8 on the same schedule as they have for Windows 7 and Windows Vista – new drivers will be available for the Windows 8 Beta, RC, and RTM releases. Furthermore as Microsoft has continually iterated on the WDDM driver stack since Vista, AMD will continue to be able to offer a single unified driver that covers all of the WDDM OSes (Vista, 7, and 8).

Image Quality: Anisotropic Filtering Tweaks & Tessellation Speed Meet the Radeon HD 7970
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  • Wreckage - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    That's kind of disappointing. Reply
  • atticus14 - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    oh look its that guy that was banned from the forums for being an overboard nvidia zealot. Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, January 03, 2012 - link

    Maybe he meant "somebody @ anandtech is again pissing on AMDs cookies"?

    I mean "oh, it's fastest and coolest single GPU card on the market, it is slightly more expensive than competitor's, but it kinda sucks since AMD didn't go "significantly cheaper than nVidia" route" is hard to call unbiased, eh?

    Kind of disappointing conclusion, indeed.
    Reply
  • ddarko - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    To each their own but I think this is undeniable impressive:

    "Even with the same number of ROPs and a similar theoretical performance limit (29.6 vs 28.16), 7970 is pushing 51% more pixels than 6970 is" and

    "it’s clear that AMD’s tessellation efficiency improvements are quite real, and that with Tahiti AMD can deliver much better tessellation performance than Cayman even at virtually the same theoretical triangle throughput rate."
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    I prefer nVidia products, mostly because the games I play (EA/DICE Battlefield-series) are heavily sponsered by nVidia, giving them a developement-edge.

    That out of the way, nVidia has had their problems just like this card is going to experience. Remember when Fermi came out, it was a performance joke, not because it was slow, but because it used a ridiculous amount of power to do the same thing as an ATI card while costing substantially more.

    Fermi wasn't successful until second-generation products were released, most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those, and it will take over a year for ATI to make this architecture shine.
    Reply
  • kyuu - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Wat? The only thing there might be an issue with is drivers. As far as power consumption goes, this should be better than Cayman. Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    He's saying the 28mn node will have further power improvements. Take it as an amd compliment - rather you should have. Reply
  • StriderTR - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    EA/Dice are just as heavily sponsored by AMD, more in fact. Not sure where your getting your information, but its .. well ... wrong. Nvidia bought the rights to advertize the game with their hardware, AMD is heavily sponsoring BF3 and related material. Example, The Controller.

    Also, the GTX 580 and HD 6970 perform within a few FPS of each other on BF3. I run dual 6970's, by buddy runs dual 580's, we are almost always within 2 FPS of one and other at any given time.

    AMD will have the new architecture "shining" in far under a year. They have been focused on it for a long time already.

    Simple bottom line, both Nvidia and AMD make world class cards these days. No matter your preference, you have cards to choose from that will rock any games on the planet for a long time to come.
    Reply
  • deaner - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    Umm, yea no. Not so much with nvidia and EA/DICE Batttlefield series giving nvidia a development edge. (if it does, the results are yet to be seen)
    Facts are facts, the 5 series to our current review today, the 7970, do and again continue to edge the Nvidia lines. The AMD Catalyst performance of particular note, BF3, has been far superior.

    Reply
  • RussianSensation - Thursday, December 22, 2011 - link

    ."..most obviously the GTX460 and GT430, reasonably priced cards with quality drivers and low power consumption. But it took over a year for nVidia to release those"

    GTX470/480 launched March 26, 2010
    GTX460 launched July 12, 2010
    GT430 launched October 11, 2010

    Also, Fermi's performance at launch was not a joke. GTX470 delivered performance between HD5850 and HD5870, priced in the middle. Looking now, GTX480 ~ HD6970. So again, both of those cards did relatively well at the time. Once you consider overclocking of the 470/480, they did extremely well, both easily surprassing the 5870 in performance in overclocked states.

    Sure power consumption was high, but that's the nature of the game for highest-end GPUs.
    Reply

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