A Torrid Affair with Graphics: June 2002 3D Market Updateby Anand Lal Shimpi on June 18, 2002 6:14 PM EST
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ATI Launches CATALYST
Last Thursday ATI released their new line of drivers under the CATALYST brand. CATALYST is basically a name that fits over ATI's entire software suite that ships with their graphics cards including the display drivers, Multimedia Center, Hydravision and Remote Wonder software. There will be between 8 and 10 updates per year to the display driver portion of CATALYST and you will be able to download just the updated part of the suite whenever an update is available. ATI is hoping to have an auto-update utility built into CATALYST before the end of the year (ala Windows Update).
In terms of actual features and capabilities built into the first CATALYST release, which is now available on the web, there are a handful of things to talk about. In an effort to reduce tech support calls ATI has introduced SMARTGART as a part of the CATALYST display drivers. During any install/upgrade of your display drivers the SMARTGART tool will run a number of tests transparent to the user; based on the results of these tests the utility will then adjust your system's AGP operation mode (e.g. 1X, 2X, 4X, Fast Writes, SBA, etc ). This is mainly a way of dealing with poor AGP controller implementations; especially on legacy chipsets (remember the problems with the ALi Aladdin V?). ATI insists that SMARTGART will be user overrideable and is mainly for the non-techie end user that may run into problems with their systems. ATI is also implementing this sort of functionality today with hopes of sorting out many issues with compatibility before Microsoft's launch of their Longhorn (3D UI) OS about two years from now.
The new CATALYST software release also bundles HydraVision 3.1 which now has an nView-like installation wizard. All known problems since the February release of the software have been addressed; there is also support for quad-head setups using any ATI cards (e.g. two Radeon VEs) in the new version of the software.
The Multimedia Center gets a new skin but there's no new functionality built into the first CATALYST release. Remote Wonder 1.2 is bundled with a predefined plug-in for both Winamp and Power Point to customize the remote for use in those two applications. ATI was supposed to be making the Remote Wonder development kit online so that end-users could make their own plug-ins for any software packages but after a bit of scavenging on ATI's site we couldn't find it posted.
Finally with the CATALYST drivers you also get a new set of OpenGL/Direct3D tools that let you control all of your card's features (e.g. Anti-Aliasing, Anisotropic Filtering, Texture Details, etc ). ATI has truly raised the bar in terms of what we expect from configurability of drivers and now we turn to NVIDIA for an adequate response.