AMD Catalyst 13.3b2 vs 13.2b7 Driver Investigation



Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: March 20th, 2013

Introduction & 3DMark Tests

AMD released their latest beta driver on Friday, March 15th. Many were expecting the 13.2 beta series, part of the Never Settle Reloaded onslaught, to be WHQL certified and released this month but instead we received a new performance driver, Catalyst 13.3 beta 2. We're going to compare the 13.2b7 driver with the 13.3b2 driver, using three popular graphics benchmark applications: Futuremark 3DMark and Unigine's Valley and Heaven tests. While AMD is calling out gaming performance in their release notes, we wonder if static benchmark tests are being boosted in performance as well. The release notes for Catalyst 13.3 offer the following feature highlights:

  • Improve performance in Sim City 5 up to 16 percent
  • Improves performance in Far Cry 3 up to 5 percent
  • Improves latency performance issues seen in Tomb Raider and Hitman Absolution
  • Resolves slight corruption seen in Tomb Raider with TressFX enabled for CrossFire and single GPU configurations

The driver supports the following hardware, under Microsoft Windows Vista/7 and 8. AMD indicates a Linux version is following soon, but not Windows XP.

  • AMD Radeon HD 7700, 7800, 7900 Series
  • AMD Radeon HD 6000 Series
  • AMD Radeon HD 5000 Series
  • AMD Mobility Radeon HD 7000M Series
  • AMD Mobility Radeon HD 6000M Series
  • AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5000 Series

The list is missing the OEM only Radeon HD 8000 series, or the Radeon HD 8000G series found in the recently announced Elite series APUs. It's also not clear if these drivers support Enduro systems. AMD moved the pre-DirectX 11 hardware, the AMD ATI Radeon HD 4000 series and older, to their legacy support model in April 2012, before the announced move away from the monthly WHQL update cadence in June.

Our test hardware is as follows:

Component Specification
Mainboard Crosshair V Formula
Chipset 990FX + SB950
Processor AMD FX-8350
Discrete Graphics AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition
Memory 4x4GB AMD Radeon Performance Ed.
Speed DDR3-1866 10-11-10-27
Audio Creative SB X-Fi
PSU Corsair TX850
Case HAF 932
OS Drive Samsung 830 128GB
Storage Drive Seagate 7200.12 1TB
Heatsink/Fan FX Liquid Cooler w/Noctua Fans
Display ASUS VG-236H 24" [120Hz]
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit Pro
Driver Catalyst 13.2 beta 7
  Catalyst 13.3 beta 2

3DMark:

Futuremark's latest 3DMark is broken out into different tests; we're going to use Cloudgate, FireStrike and FireStrike Extreme to compare the two graphics drivers.

Below you can see the percentile differences of the 13.3b2 driver vs. the 13.2b7 driver:

13.2b7. 13.3b2
Cloudgate +5.5%
FireStrike +2.5%
FireStrike Extreme 0%

Not a significant difference in performance unless you're submitting scores online and even then only Cloudgate has a worthwhile bump.

Below are the per test results broken out:

The score increase for Cloudgate comes from the Physics tests primarily. Similarly for FireStrike, there's Physics and Combined tests. FireStrike Extreme takes a hit on Physics which appears to be compensated for with slight advantages in the graphics tests, for a net balance.

Next up is Unigine and their Valley and Heaven tests.