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A look at Radeon Settings
Radeon owners will already be familiar with AMD's venerable Catalyst Control Center software. Catalyst Control Center is riding into the sunset alongside the Catalyst driver with the advent of Crimson. The new sheriff in town is called Radeon Settings. AMD says Radeon Settings is a "ground-up rebuild" of its management utility using the Qt framework.

To be honest, my experience with AMD's older Catalyst releases is limited. My main PC gets its pixel-pushing power from Nvidia's GeForce GTX 760, and I've long used the green team's GeForce Experience software to manage driver updates and graphics settings. Our Casewarmer test system, on the other hand, is a perfect Radeon Software Crimson Edition testbed. This machine comprises an AMD A10-7850K APU and an AMD A88X motherboard.

For reference, the most recent release of Catalyst Control Center for this system, 2015.0804.21.41908, uses a spare (if serviceable) breadcrumb-based interface with link-style paths to display, power, video, gaming, performance, and audio settings. CCC is pretty sluggish to start even on my SSD-equipped testbed system. The software needed a few seconds to load when I launched it from its tray icon.

Perhaps it was just a quirk of trying to install beta driver software on an already-abused testbed system, but my first attempt at installing Crimson resulted in a hung system and a black screen. My PC came up fine after a reboot, so no harm done. I proceeded to uninstall any vestiges of graphics drivers from both Nvidia and AMD before running AMD's own driver cleaner tool. After that, Crimson installed just fine.

AMD isn't kidding about the improved responsiveness of Radeon Settings, the CCC replacement included in Crimson. The software launched instantly when I clicked its tray icon, and I didn't notice any lag when moving around its transition-heavy interface. Catalyst Control Center didn't feel slow to me after its long start-up time, but it's nice that Radeon Settings is snappier overall.

The latest version of GeForce Experience is a slug to start compared to Radeon Settings, even on my wholly modern main machine. It also felt slower to respond under certain demands, like enumerating all of the Steam games I have installed. To be fair, pulling up a list of games and all of their optimal settings might be a tough task on a system with lots of titles installed, but that fact doesn't fully excuse GFE's occasional pokiness.

There are five tabs
The main Settings interface groups its wide range of options under five main tabs: Gaming, Video, Display, Eyefinity, and System. Settings' main screen shows a carousel of ads for games and hardware from AMD's partners by default, but that behavior can be turned off in a single click under the Preferences tab. These ads are tasteful and don't appear to be targeted, at least.

The Gaming tab lets users set global graphics settings for parameters like anti-aliasing, anisotropic filtering, v-sync, the new Shader Cache feature, and Frame Rate Target Control. Users can also tailor per-game graphics settings here. For demonstrative purposes, we've shown the per-game configuration screen for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Video contains a handful of pre-baked "enhancement" profiles for watching, well, videos. These profiles control sharpening, "color vibrance," AMD Steady Video, and AMD Fluid Motion Video. I was prepared to dismiss these profiles out of hand, but I actually didn't find them too objectionable in use. AMD also offers a neat "demo mode" that lets you see what each profile will look like in a split-screen view with the source video. It doesn't hurt to try these profiles out to see whether they help the source material.

The Display tab shows all of the screens connected to the host PC. This tab lets users control features like FreeSync, Virtual Super Resolution, and GPU scaling.

Clicking "Additional Settings" on the Display tab brings up a CCC-like interface for some more esoteric display settings, like color correction, supported HDTV modes, and custom resolutions. It's all well and good to have control over these settings, but I found it jarring to get kicked out to an older-style interface to change them.

If you're using AMD's Eyefinity multiple-monitor tech, the Eyefinity tab will presumably let you tweak those settings. I don't have enough monitors in my labs to get Eyefinity enabled on my test system, so we'll have to leave the exploration of this tab for a later date.

Finally, the System tab lets users see key information about their Radeon hardware and software, alongside basic system info like the CPU model, the amount of main memory and graphics memory, the installed graphics card, and more. A Hardware sub-section of this tab displays a GPU-Z-like interface with more in-depth specs of the installed graphics adapter.

Overall, AMD should pride itself on a job well done here. For the most part, Radeon Settings feels as polished as Nvidia's competing solution.

During the Crimson setup process, users can choose to get AMD's Gaming Evolved software, too. Gaming Evolved is a reskin of the Raptr client application, and it provides services like Twitch streaming, video capture, game settings optimization, and automatic driver updates. If this all sounds a lot like GeForce Experience, it should, since both applications offer similar feature lists.

High-quality software and regular driver updates are a huge part of the graphics card ownership experience. If our time with Radeon Software Crimson Edition is any indication, AMD has taken this truth to heart for its latest major release. Radeon Settings shows an impressive level of polish already, and AMD's included Gaming Evolved software offers many of the same features as GeForce Experience does for Nvidia owners, even if Gaming Evolved isn't as tightly-integrated as GFE. If you own a compatible Radeon, we see no reason to hold off installing Crimson.

AMD says it plans up to six major WHQL Radeon Software releases in 2016, along with additional beta releases. That's compared to three WHQL releases and nine beta releases for all of 2015. Given that Nvidia will be releasing 12 WHQL driver updates by the end of this year alone, AMD may have to lean on quality over quantity for those releases, but the polish of Radeon Software Crimson Edition suggests the company has the chops necessary to do just that. 

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