Some seven months ago at the end of 2016, AMD released the Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition update. That major release added the red team's video capture solution, ReLive, to the company's Radeon Settings package. That was 2016's promised major annual update for the Radeon driver package, and we wouldn't have expected to see 2017's until late this year. Nevertheless, today I'm here to talk about the latest major update to AMD's graphics driver package, Radeon Software Crimson ReLive 17.7.2.
There's no nifty subtitle this time around (like "Catalyst Omega" or "Crimson ReLive Edition"), so it's arguable that this isn't 2017's major update. The company does say this version is "Advanced and Amplified," though. That makes sense, as this update is more of an expansion of existing features than anything else. The biggest new feature is AMD's response to Nvidia's Fast Sync, called Enhanced Sync.
V-sync levels up with Enhanced Sync
As a Radeon user, the one GeForce feature I've been missing out on the most is the company's Fast Sync. If you're not familiar with Fast Sync, you can read a bit about it here in Jeff's review of the GeForce GTX 1080, where it debuted. The short version is that Fast Sync is an alternate form of vertical sync that purports to offer all of the advantages of enabling v-sync without the disadvantages. In essence, Fast Sync claims to remove tearing while the framerate is above the monitor's refresh rate without causing the input lag that v-sync can bring when a graphics card produces a frame rate slower than the monitor's refresh rate.
If this all sounds like triple buffering, both Fast Sync and Enhanced Sync seem broadly similar (at least when running above the screen's maximum refresh rate). They're just implemented at the driver level rather than in games.
With Enhanced Sync enabled, your game is still free to run at its maximum framerate cap or at unlimited rates. However, display refreshes are still synced up to the monitor's refresh rate as if you were running with v-sync enabled. According to AMD's Enhanced Sync blog post, the algorithm will always grab the most recently completed frame among those available to it at each refresh interval. That means you'll never have to deal with the frame tearing that can result from running too-high of a framerate, but it also means you can enjoy the full fluidity that comes from driving a game at hundreds of frames per second.
When your framerate drops below your monitor's refresh rate, Enhanced Sync behaves essentially as if you had simply disabled v-sync. That allows the image to tear, but more importantly, it avoids the nasty juddering that can result from using v-sync at lower framerates. That means you still get the smoothest experience possible at the highest framerate you can manage.
Enhanced Sync on its own is a great feature, but AMD helpfully points out that players can use it alongside a FreeSync display. The end result is that within your monitor's FreeSync range (say, 30-144Hz), the monitor will sync on every frame as usual. When your framerate exceeds the monitor's maximum refresh rate, the display will continue to refresh at its full speed (e.g. 144Hz) while the game runs along at full speed, blissfully uninhibited by v-sync. That's a big improvement for folks who play games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that are unlikely to have their framerates drop below their monitor's refresh rate.
I unfortunately wasn't able to put Radeon Enhanced Sync to the test because the feature is only supported on graphics cards using RX 400 and 500-series GPUs—that is, Polaris—and I'm still rocking a positively-ancient Hawaii card. Presumably the Vega Frontier Edition and the upcoming Radeon RX Vega will support Enhanced Sync as well. Being unable to test Enhanced Sync was a little disappointing given that Nvidia officially supports Fast Sync on both generations of Maxwell hardware as well as the Pascal chips it debuted with. Hopefully AMD can expand Enhanced Sync support to older GCN hardware, but I'm not holding onto hope that my old R9 290X will be on the list.
Chill creeps across your game library
Enhanced Sync is the only explicitly new feature in the Radeon 17.7.2 update, but as I mentioned before, there's still a fair bit to talk about. Remember Radeon Chill? The software-based system intelligently drops a card's GPU to a lower frame rate when the player is less active, and ramps it up to keep framerates high when the action hits. I'm still using it when I play Dark Souls III, and I really appreciate the reduction in heat output and fan noise. In fact, I have a few more games that I wish I could use it on. In a few cases, now I can. AMD has expanded the list of supported titles for Chill from 18 games to 39 games with this latest update.
The original release of Chill only supported games using the DirectX 9 and DirectX 11 APIs. In theory, that support covers the vast majority of current games, but moving forward, we're hoping to see more titles take up the challenge of using the low-level Vulkan and DirectX 12 APIs to wrangle hardware more efficiently. A number of the newly-supported titles, including Hitman, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, and Battlefield 1, can see significant performance benefits when running in DirectX 12 mode. Likewise, Doom runs much better on the Vulkan API, particularly on Radeons. For those reasons, we're very happy to see that Chill now supports both DirectX 12 and Vulkan games.
Chill still requires game-specific support in AMD's driver, so niche gamers like me won't be using it on our favorite titles (yet). The company hasn't been sitting on its thumbs, though. The immensely popular League of Legends and Dota 2 both quietly got Chill support earlier this year in the 17.4.3 update. The new list includes a lot of the biggest multiplayer games right now too, like ARK, the aforementioned League of Legends and Battlefield 1, plus the upcoming Quake Champions.
AMD also expanded Chill support to include more esoteric hardware configurations, like multi-GPU Crossfire systems and Radeon XConnect external GPUs. Perhaps the best place to use Chill is on laptops, though. Chill is now supported on laptops equipped with discrete Radeon graphics, and AMD says that enabling Chill could lead to as much as 30% greater battery life while gaming. I've seen first-hand the real-world results of Radeon Chill on the power draw of thirsty discrete GPUs, so it's not difficult to imagine that the frame-rate limiting tech could work wonders in laptops.
To make Chill more accessible, AMD has moved the feature out of Radeon Wattman. In its prior home, Chill required users to agree to a scary-looking EULA that offered a standard disclaimer regarding the damage or destruction of hardware through overclocking. Chill settings now live in games' Profile Graphics pages and no longer require passing over the EULA speed bump.
Speaking of frame-rate limiting, AMD's Frame Rate Target Control (FRTC) feature is still alive and kicking. I actually sort-of suspected that Radeon Chill might supersede FRTC as it performs a similar function in a smarter way, but for those who still want to set a hard limit on framerates, FRTC certainly provides a simpler option. FRTC has been expanded much like Chill, with support for DirectX 12 games and multi-GPU configurations.