Gotta capture 'em all
Besides ReLive and Chill, AMD is showing off some other fancy software that's not integral to its latest drivers. Here at TR, we've been using a handy app called PresentMon to capture frame-time data ever since the advent of DirectX 12. PresentMon works well when it works, but it's hard to use and prone to instability at times. Along with the ReLive Edition drivers, AMD sent over a beta version of a new app it's working on called OCAT, which stands for Open Capture and Analysis Tool.
OCAT is essentially an open-source, GUI-equipped version of PresentMon. After you launch OCAT, you can configure a capture hotkey and a capture time period. Click "Start", and then tap your hotkey to begin capturing frametimes for every app that creates a 3D context. This can include some apps that most would never want to benchmark, like Microsoft Excel, so OCAT has a blacklist feature. Unfortunately, editing the blacklist means editing an INI file and restarting the application, but anyone messing with OCAT is probably more than familiar with editing configuration files by hand.
Alternatively, you can configure OCAT to launch and capture a single app. In theory, this could force OCAT to capture an application it doesn't see otherwise, but we didn't find this to be necessary in our testing. OCAT includes an FPS and frame-time overlay, too, so you can use that for a sanity test while benchmarking. I used OCAT throughout the production of this article and regularly compared its results to PresentMon. The output was identical in all cases, but that comes as no surprise considering OCAT is built upon that app.
Even though AMD supports OCAT development, it's completely vendor-agnostic and open-source. The app produces CSV files in the same format as PresentMon, so anyone familiar with that type of output should be right at home. If you're not a hardcore frame-time benchmarker, OCAT can at least show you average FPS, frame times, and even 99th-percentile frame times after a benchmark in its timed-run mode.
In use, OCAT generally manages to hook the application you want it to and reliably logs data. Were it that we could say the same of PresentMon. For folks looking for a DX12- and Vulkan-compatible Fraps successor, OCAT looks promising.
The best of the rest
Of course, ReLive wouldn't be an AMD driver update without a bundle of fixes, features, and performance improvements. Here's a grab bag of features and changes AMD is throwing into its latest release.
- The new driver adds hardware-accelerated VP9 video decode to all GCN and Polaris-based Radeons. That functionality is a "hybrid" decode run on the GPU itself rather than with fixed-function hardware, but AMD say it should reduce power consumption nonetheless.
- WattMan, the detailed tweaking and tuning software that replaced the old Overdrive system for Polaris, now supports a variety of older Radeons. Cards from the R9 Fury, R9 390, R9 380, R9 290, R9 285, R9 260, R7 360, and R7 260 series will all work with WattMan.
- Speaking of the RX 480, AMD says it has increased performance across the board by up to 8% for that part compared to the original launch driver from June.
- RX 400-series Radeons are getting DisplayPort HBR3 support, too. That means those cards can drive a 4K monitor at up to 120 Hz over a single DisplayPort cable, a 5K display at 60 Hz with one cable, or an 8K display at 30 Hz.
- ReLive is the first Radeon driver with full support for HDR content. Radeons with Fiji, Tonga, Hawaii, and Polaris will be able to display HDR10 and Dolby Vision content with ReLive installed.
- Folks who prefer HDMI outputs instead will find that bad cables will no longer result in frustrating black screens or other intractable issues. AMD has implemented signal detection and fallback algorithms that will step through lower resolutions and refresh rates to find a supported configuration with a failing HDMI cable, then alert the user of the poor signal problem. This feature works with GCN Radeons and Kabini-and-newer APUs.
- Multi-monitor FreeSync users can rejoice, too. FreeSync is now supported on applications running in borderless window mode. AMD says this will reduce input lag on these applications by up to 24%. More importantly, it means these users will be able to alt-tab in and out of their FreeSync games without breaking anything.
If Catalyst Omega was about performance and Radeon Software Crimson Edition was about stability, then Crimson ReLive Edition is about features. AMD says this is its biggest software release ever, and we see no reason to disagree. The ReLive app produces high-quality game captures with less performance impact than competing capture programs, and it "just worked" in our tests. That easy capture and streaming experience is a boon to Radeon owners, even if it is playing a bit of catch-up with ShadowPlay.
Though the early version of the Radeon Chill app we tested didn't behave entirely as we might have expected in our tests, it promises an intriguing way to manage excessive power consumption, high GPU core temperatures, and undue noise in games that would normally run at multiple hundreds of frames per second. It doesn't hurt that Chill and ReLive come totally free, too.
Last year, we expressed confidence that AMD had what it took to deliver quality software when we took a look at the Radeon Software Crimson Edition release. The competitive performance of Radeons in our recent reviews, AMD's consistent launch-day or near-launch-day driver releases in 2016, and our experience with Crimson ReLive Edition only reinforce that conclusion.
Contrast that praise with the frustration we expressed with Radeon drivers just a year and a half ago, and it's clear that AMD's software has come a long way in a relatively short time. There are still many factors to weigh when choosing a graphics card, but at least for now, AMD has shown that the quality of driver and software support doesn't have to be among them.