AMD's Gaming Evolved Application

During AMD’s “partner time” block at the 2014 GPU Product Showcase, one of the projects presented was the Raptr social networking and instant messaging application. Put together by the company of the same name, AMD would be partnering with Raptr to produce an AMD branded version of the utility called the “AMD Gaming Evolved App, Powered By Raptr”.

In a nutshell, the Gaming Evolved App (GEA) is AMD’s attempt to bring another value add feature to the Radeon brand. And although AMD will never explicitly say this, to be more specific the GEA is clearly intended to counter NVIDIA successful GeForce Experience utility, which exited beta back in May and has been continuing to add features since.

Raptr/GEA contains a wealth of functionality, with the application being several years old at this point, but the key feature as a video card utility and the reason AMD has picked it up is its latest feature addition, the game optimization service. Just launched last month in beta, the optimization service is a functional clone of GeForce Experience’s optimization service. Designed with the same goals in mind, the GEA optimization service is intended to offer the ability for gamers disinterested in configuring their games – or even just looking for a place to start – a way to simply download a suitable collection of settings for their games and hardware and apply those settings to their games.

The concept is in practice very similar to the recommended settings that most games apply today, but driven by the GPU manufacturer instead of the game developer, and kept up to date with hardware/software changes as opposed to being set in stone when the game went gold. Even for someone like a professional GPU reviewer, it’s a very nifty thing to have when turning up every setting isn’t going to be practical.

To get right to the point then, while we’re big fans of the concept it’s clear that this is a case of AMD tripping over themselves in trying to react to something NVIDIA has done, by trying to find the fastest way of achieving the same thing. Like GeForce Experience, AMD has started bundling GEA with their drivers and installing it by default, but unlike GFE it’s still in beta at this point, and a very rough beta at that. And not to take an unnecessary shot at AMD, but even in beta GeForce Experience wasn’t this raw or this incomplete.

So why are we so down on GEA? There are a few reasons, but the most basic of which is that the Raptr service lacks enough performance data for GEA to offer meaningful recommendations. Even on a fairly old card like a Radeon HD 7950, GEA was only able to find settings for 5 of the 11 games we have installed on our GPU testbed, failing to include settings for a number of games that are months (if not years) old. To be fair every service has to start out somewhere, and GFE certainly didn’t launch with a massive library of games, but 5 games, none newer than March, is a particularly bad showing.

Now a lot of this has to do with how Raptr collects the performance data it uses for recommendations. NVIDIA for their part decided to do everything in house, relying on their driver validation GPU farms to benchmark games across multiple settings to find a good balance based on parameters picked by the GFE development team. Raptr, though backed by AMD, does not have anything resembling NVIDIA’s GPU farms and as such is going the crowdsourced route, relying on telemetry taken from Raptr users’ computers. Raptr’s data acquisition method is not necessarily wrong, but it means there’s no one to bootstrap the service with data, which means the service has started out with essentially nothing.

Raptr for their part is aware of the problem they’re faced with, and in time the distribution of the GEA along with their own Raptr application will hopefully ensure that there are enough users playing enough games out there to collect the necessary data. Even so, they did have to implement what amounts to a solution to the tragedy of the commons problem to make sure that data gets collected; users cannot receive settings from the Raptr service unless they provide data in return. Turning off the telemetry service will also turn off the client’s ability to pull down settings, full stop. Given the service’s requirements for data collection it’s likely the best solution to the problem, but regardless we have to point out that Ratpr is alone in this requirement. NVIDIA can offer GFE without requiring performance telemetry from users.

Moving on then, the other showstopper with GEA’s current optimization service is that it’s obvious the UI has been an afterthought. The GEA UI lists settings by the values used in a game’s settings file, rather than the name of that value. E.g. “Ultra” texture quality in Bioshock Infinite is labeled as texture detail “4”, or worse. Without sufficient labeling it’s impossible to tell just what those settings mean, let alone what they may do. As such applying GEA settings right now is something of a shot in the dark, as you don’t know what you’re going to get.

Finally, presumably as a holdover from the fact that Raptr is free, GEA runs what can only be described as ads. These aren’t straight up advertisements, rather directing users towards other services Raptr/GEA provides, such as Free-2-Play games and a rewards service. But the end game is the same as these services are paid for by Raptr’s sponsors and are intended to drive users towards purchasing games and merchandise from those sponsors. Which far be it for us to look down upon advertisements – after all, AnandTech is ad supported – but there’s something to be said for ad supported applications in a driver download. We're at something of a loss for explaining why AMD doesn't just foot the complete bill on their customized version of the Raptr client and have the ads removed entirely.

At any rate we do have some faith that in time these issues can be dealt with and the GEA can essentially be fixed, but right now the GEA is far too raw for distribution. It needs to go back into development for another few months or so (and the service bootstrapped with many more computer configurations and games) before it’s going to be of suitable quality for inclusion in AMD’s drivers. Otherwise AMD is doing their users a disservice by distributing inferior, ad supported software alongside the software required to use their products.

The Test

For the launch of the Radeon R9 290, the press drivers and the launch drivers will be AMD’s recently released Catalyst 13.11 Beta v8 drivers. Along with containing support for the 290 and the 47% fan speed override, the only other changes in these drivers involve Batman: Arkham Origins and Battlefield 4, games which we aren’t using for this review. So the results will be consistent with past drivers. Meanwhile for NVIDIA’s cards we’re continuing to use their release 331.58 drivers.

CPU: Intel Core i7-4960X @ 4.2GHz
Motherboard: ASRock Fatal1ty X79 Professional
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200i
Hard Disk: Samsung SSD 840 EVO (750GB)
Memory: G.Skill RipjawZ DDR3-1866 4 x 8GB (9-10-9-26)
Case: NZXT Phantom 630 Windowed Edition
Monitor: Asus PQ321
Video Cards: AMD Radeon R9 290X
AMD Radeon R9 290
XFX Radeon R9 280X Double Dissipation
AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
AMD Radeon HD 7970
AMD Radeon HD 6970
AMD Radeon HD 5870
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 770
Video Drivers: NVIDIA Release 331.58
AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta v1
AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta v5
AMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta v8
OS: Windows 8.1 Pro


AMD's Last Minute 290 Revision & Meet The Radeon R9 290 Metro: Last Light
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  • carlob - Saturday, December 7, 2013 - link

    At the top of the card, above first row of memory chips, there is one micro switch. If i see well, it's written SW1.
    Does anybody know what is the purpose of the switch? Thanks.
  • jonabatero - Thursday, December 19, 2013 - link

    HELLO: guys test the R9 290 with LUMION 3D . please .
    could someone please test the performance of the R9 290 with Lumion 3d. serial great buy with the performance of a GTX 770 in Lumion
  • xaml - Sunday, December 22, 2013 - link

    "Ultimately there will be scenarios where this is acceptable – namely, anything where you don’t have to hear the 290, such as putting it in another room or putting it under water (...)."

    Or the scenario, the one that's neither unreasonable nor rare, which was conveniently left out, namely playing with a headset. I understand, however, that there has to be a balance between more powerful fans and their noise output, especially with cards which typically grew in size, yet reaching a point where both the cards as well as their fans cannot further grow. A truly negative review would have been one where the fan was loud and where it wouldn't adequately support the airflow.
  • c1phertxt - Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - link

    I don't think a lot of people realise how hot this card gets under load. I have a CM HAF XB and an XFX R9 290.

    When the card is at 100% load, the existing "fan-temp" curve is insufficient to prevent throttling. I see the temps stabilising at 95 C while the fan is at 46%. As a result clocks throttle down to 662 Mhz. I have to set a custom fan profile that sets the fan to atleast 65% to keep the temps at 85C. Even then, the clocks go down to 850Mhz (a 100 Mhz throttle).

    Anything over 65% fan speed is deafening (sounds like a blow dryer and at 80%+ it sounds like a vacum cleaner).

    Seriously contemplating putting this under water or getting an after market cooler.
  • jaris - Thursday, June 19, 2014 - link

    Been gaming since the mid 70's, so fairly seasoned, the review is good upto the point regards noise, then it becomes silly. Most gamers don't sit in the front room playing whilst the wife watches tv, well I don't, plus I like loud, thats why i use a headset, all the time. R290 is going into my i7 4790k, like quickly. Might have to close the den door a little but well... I have a very decent headset, won't hear anything other than the game playing. ;)

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