Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition 17.7.2 boasts refinements galore

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.

 

I ReLive… again

Radeon ReLive hasn’t changed much since its inception. That’s fine by me, because it’s already a pretty fantastic utility. If you’re not familiar with the feature, let me direct you once again to my write-up in December. The short version is that it’s a utility that allows gamers to stream gameplay footage to the web or save it to disk, as well as take screenshots and save highlights. It’s simple to use and easy to configure, and while I had some complaints about the feature at first, it still impressed me greatly overall.

ReLive is getting some excellent upgrades in the 17.7.2 driver release. While our testing found ReLive to have a pretty minimal effect on game performance—especially compared to admittedly-more-versatile solutions like Open Broadcaster Software—there’s still room for improvement. AMD is typically vague when talking about the actual change in performance impact, but the company does say that it observed 33% reduced FPS overhead in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Not bad, although given that the change was apparently from 6.3 FPS overhead to 4.2 FPS overhead, “33%” is a bit less impressive. Still, an improvement is an improvement and we’re glad to see it.

Performance may not have been a problem, but a major complaint that I did have when using ReLive is that the recording and streaming function gave you very little feedback about the quality or status of your stream. It seems AMD heard my complaints loud and clear, as the ReLive overlay has received a number of new notifications. The overlay will inform you when it is saving an instant replay, how long you’ve been recording in the current session, and if you have network problems while streaming. Missing these kinds of notifications wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, but they’ll make using ReLive that much more pleasant.

ReLive also now has improved audio and video controls, bringing it just a little closer to feature parity with apps like Open Broadcaster Software. You can now set transparency for your webcam overlay, and you can configure the recording volume for your microphone instead of simply toggling it on or off. You can also apply an audio volume boost if necessary. If you prefer, you can now set a push-to-talk hotkey for the microphone, which might help your viewers from hearing your significant other ask why you’re still Bronze after all this time.

Finally, ReLive is getting a bump in its maximum quality. At launch, ReLive supported recording video at bitrates up to 50 Mbps. That’s an extremely high bitrate, but it’s not necessarily transparent (meaning, “indistinguishable from live footage”) for very high resolutions or refresh rates with the H.264 codec that ReLive uses. Fortunately for folks who are obsessive about image quality, the maximum bitrate for ReLive has been doubled. AMD says that “Radeon GCN products on Windows 7/10” can now record video at up to 100 Mbps, which should satisfy all but the truly insane.

Onward and upward

Any major software release contains a grab bag of smaller fixes, and Radeon Software 17.7.2 is no exception. The Shader Cache feature—which purports to reduce hitches, stutters, and game load times by storing pre-compiled versions of frequently-used shaders—now works on a few DirectX 9 games as well as the DirectX 11 titles it originally supported. CrossFire, CS:GO, Dota 2, League of Legends, Monster Hunter Online, Rocket League, Starcraft 2, and World of Warcraft should all run just a bit more smoothly now. The benefits of the shader cache are hard to quantify without doing a full frame-time analysis, but AMD says Starcraft 2‘s “Whispers of Oblivion” map loads 10% faster.

List of games with reduced latency
Crysis 3 Dirt Rally Fallout 4
Far Cry Primal For Honor Grand Theft Auto V
Ghost Recon Wildlands Mass Effect Andromeda Metro: Last Light
Overwatch Prey Rise of the Tomb Raider
The Division Watch Dogs 2 Witcher 3

The company is also touting improved responsiveness in all DirectX 9 titles as well as a short list of DirectX 11 titles (reproduced above). The company performed latency testing using an Arduino-equipped mouse and a high-speed camera. That means the results are probably very accurate, but it also means that the input lag testing is highly specific to AMD’s configuration. As a result, we aren’t going to try and reproduce the company’s numbers. All of the changes are on the order of tens of milliseconds, but reduced input latency is an admirable goal in any case. To our knowledge, nobody else is doing this type of testing, so it’s very encouraging to see AMD working on this kind of optimization.

Until this version, trying to adjust certain settings—like color or output format—would require the user to open an obscure second application called “Radeon Additional Settings.” The second utility bears a strong resemblance to the old Catalyst Control Center. At least, it did until now. With Radeon Software version 17.7.2, the options handled by “Radeon Additional Settings” have been almost entirely integrated into Radeon Settings, save for an “advanced configuration” menu for an Eyefinity array.

Radeon Settings now offers per-display color control, as well, something AMD claims is the second-most-asked-for feature in this release. If you prefer to control your display’s brightness, hue, contrast, and saturation in software, Settings should now offer more flexibility if you have multiple displays.

Games don’t happen without developers, and AMD has a couple of pretty nice gifts for game devs, too. The Radeon GPU Profiler is an app that allows game developers to get “clear visualization of workloads through wavefront occupancy graphs.” Essentially, it’s the first tool on the desktop to offer a highly-granular graph of exactly which parts of a game scene are taking up however-much of the GPU’s time. Similar tools have existed for console game development, but this is the first tool of its kind for PC game developers. The utility exposes data from a GCN architectural feature called thread tracing to give developers fine-grained information on program behavior on Radeon GPUs.

The Radeon GPU Profiler has earned itself gushing endorsements from rendering engineers at DICE, EA SEED, and Valve, as well as the maintainers of the open-source graphics debugging toolkit Renderdoc. It works for applications developed using DirectX 12 and Vulkan, and it’s available for both Windows and Linux. Along with the GPU Profiler, AMD is also offering game developers a special Radeon Developer Driver. It uses the same driver core as the consumer driver, but exposes additional knobs to tweak in Radeon Settings, and simplifies saving trace files and GPU memory dumps for application analysis.

Radeon Wattman exposes a couple of new controls in this release. Radeon owners will be able to underclock their card’s memory to potentially save power or extract more thermal headroom for higher stable core overclocks. Wattman will also give users access to the card’s power state control configuration. The most obvious use for this feature is setting the GPU to run at its highest power state all the time, but it might also let owners adjust idle power states for stability (an issue that led to some users experiencing black screens and system crashes early in the life of Polaris, as we understand it).

Finally, this release comes with the usual performance improvements and bugfixes we hope for from a driver release. AMD says performance in Prey, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Ghost Recon Wildlands is up by at least 12% over prior releases, and that the open-source Linux driver has seen massive strides forward in performance. Bugs in H.264 playback, asynchronous compute on GCN 1.0 products, FreeSync on borderless-windowed applications, performance hiccups with NieR: Automata, and misbehaving fan speed controls (both automatic and manual) have all been squashed in this release.

To catch more bugs and develop more features in the future, AMD is beginning a program it calls Radeon Software Vanguard. The company will invite selected gamers and professional users to test early versions of its drivers and even bring those users to its offices for in-depth testing and feedback.

Conclusions

Radeon Software update version 17.7.2 certainly isn’t the same magnitude of update as the Crimson ReLive update, or the Catalyst Omega update before that. Enhanced Sync should provide more responsive-feeling gaming experiences to many Polaris graphics card owners, and the improvements to Radeon Chill and Radeon ReLive are all welcome ones.

Overall, AMD’s driver support has really shaped up of late. The company has continued to provide timely updates for new game launches, and between Wattman, Chill, ReLive, and Eyefinity it’s difficult to imagine what else AMD could add to its software suite. Even more inspiring is the fact that I can’t think of a single Radeon-related driver foible I’ve run into in the last six months. As a niche gamer who plays a lot of foreign, indie, and obscure titles, the fact that my Radeon has continued to perform perfectly—even in the face of the weird multi-monitor and cross-vendor multi-GPU configurations I like to fiddle with—is a testament to the effort AMD’s driver team has put in.

Despite this success, AMD has demonstrated ongoing commitments both to continually improving its drivers (shown in the unique latency testing and the expansion of the shader cache feature) as well as its open-source efforts. The free and cross-platform nature of the Radeon GPU Profiler software speaks volumes to AMD’s sincerity in its support of open software and standards, as do the massive performance improvements in its AMDGPU Linux driver. That’s not even to mention the company’s ongoing GPUOpen initiative and open-source ROCm GPU-compute toolkit.

The biggest challenges for AMD going forward are going to be maintaining this flock of fantastic features as it moves on to newer hardware. Presumably, Chill, ReLive, Enhanced Sync, and other Radeon techologies will be available on the company’s Vega-based hardware, as the Vega NCU doesn’t appear to be all that different from the now-classic GCN design. Only time will tell if we’ll be able to continue to enjoy these technologies further down the line. Head to AMD’s download page if you want to pick up Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition 17.7.2.

Comments closed
    • Mat3
    • 2 years ago

    It says Mass Effect Andromeda is supported by Chill now but after downloading this update, Chill didn’t show up in the Mass Effect Andromeda graphics profile page in my Radeon settings. I can see it for other expanded titles like Doom.

    • XorCist
    • 2 years ago

    HDMI broke when I installed these. Usually I just install over the top and everything works fine. For some reason this time, it cant complete the HDMI handshake.

    AND as I expected, a clean uninstall and install fixed it.

    And its still broken. Switching to it and using it is fine, but switching back causes it to fail the handshake. Doesn’t make any sense. Nothing changed but the software.

    • ptsant
    • 2 years ago

    Between Linux and Win updates, it really looks like they want a flawless VEGA release. At least on the software side.

    Given the complexity of the transition from Polaris to VEGA/HBM2, I suspect that the software may also be a key element in being competitive. The compute power (raw TFLOPS) is certainly there with VEGA, the efficiency (FPS/TFLOPS) seems to be suffering though…

    • DoomGuy64
    • 2 years ago

    Things broken in older driver, unlikely fixed in this one because not mentioned:

    * MG279 Fury compatibility. Can’t get above 90hz without black screen. Works fine on 390.
    * MG279 line in middle of screen from waking computer up with Fury, requires driver reset.
    * ReLive doesn’t work in borderless window, or at least in the games I play.
    * MLAA is questionably better on Fury than 390. Why?
    * Low power memory states on Hawaii have been neutered since doom update, and don’t work at all with dual monitors.

    Issues with new driver:

    Polaris only features is reminiscent of 290/390 release driver scandal, where the 390 started out with an improved driver which was not available to 290 users until months later. Only difference between 390/290 was better power management (now broken) and ram. People were able to mod the 390 driver to work on the 290, same as the win10 driver mod for win7. Artificial product segmentation via drivers is not cool.

    Additional complaint:
    Review sites are not calling out AMD for any of these issues, and AMD is not admitting their existence, unlike the Nvidia power management scandal. People on reddit and AMD’s support forums have been complaining for months with no progress.

    Hopefully the new driver fixes some of my complaints, but I doubt it will address all of them.

    • brucethemoose
    • 2 years ago

    I hope they bring enhanced sync to older cards.

    • DrCR
    • 2 years ago

    Serious question: Are Radeon drivers presently sufficiently competitive with Nvidia in the Linux realm e.g. SteamOS gaming?

      • ptsant
      • 2 years ago

      I would say that the main focus has been the compute/OpenCL side of things under Linux. There is a simple reason for that: most people who want games will run Windows and most people who want compute will run Linux.

      I cannot compare with a nVidia card, but the recent linux drivers appear very robust. They are probably significantly slower for games than their Windows counterparts but then again I haven’t been performance limited for the simpler stuff (Dota, for example) and the AAA releases are usually not available for linux.

      • Hattig
      • 2 years ago

      AMD have been putting a lot of work into their open source Linux drivers. There are plenty of articles over at Phoronix should you want to take a look. I don’t think they compete with Nvidia’s closed source drivers, at least not in many games.

      • Fursdon
      • 2 years ago

      Here’s a couple examples from Phoronix, as Hattig mentioned.

      [url<]http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=12-radeonsi-1june&num=6[/url<] [url<]http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=article&item=mesa-172-branch&num=1[/url<] They are getting better and better monthly, and it would depend on your own definition of 'sufficiently competitve' though. They aren't woefully outmatched, I would say.

    • Vaughn
    • 2 years ago

    My now ancient HP ZR24w has that color depth setting for 6 bpc or 8 bpc. while a 2nd newer display but cheaper LG 24MB35 doesn’t show any settings for it.

    • DPete27
    • 2 years ago

    Here’s an idea AMD. How about not resetting my WattMan voltage curve every time I update drivers….

      • Voldenuit
      • 2 years ago

      A bunch of my Afterburner settings get reset w geforce drivers too. Might be a pre-emptive troubleshooting thing.

    • odizzido
    • 2 years ago

    It has been a while since I’ve used an AMD card but I did like the AMD control panel better than the Nvidia one I use now. I would be interested in seeing all these new “improvements” that AMD has done. If it actually is better than the old one, as in at least no removed features, then that would be pretty cool.

    • DPete27
    • 2 years ago

    I’m very happy that they’ve included DX12 and Vulkan support in their power saving features!!!

    Chill might be “smarter” but it also seems to be more limited compatibility. FRTC doesn’t have a whitelist of games IIRC.

    With FRTC and enhanced sync, I’m hoping to get close to no tearing on my fixed 60Hz monitor.

      • tay
      • 2 years ago

      What framerate do you set? I have it set to 90 Hz on a 60 Hz monitor with enhanced sync. Should i set it back down to 60?

        • DPete27
        • 2 years ago

        I put mine at 70Hz. I’ve had some tearing / jittering when I set it to 60Hz since there’s very little room for error at that point. If you drop below 60fps that a runt frame. I’m hoping 70Hz will allow enhanced sync to not have to work very hard to toss the few extra frames generated while still ensuring I’m staying above 60Hz at all times (when FRTC is actively limiting)

    • Topinio
    • 2 years ago

    4 hours. Since I got around to installong 17.7.1 that is. Sigh. I even checked the AMD website in case a new one had been put up…

    • Shobai
    • 2 years ago

    [quote<]Radeon Wattman exposes a couple of new controls in this release. Radeon owners will be able to underclock their card's memory to potentially save power or extract more thermal headroom for higher stable core overclocks. Wattman will also give users access to the card's power state control configuration. The most obvious use for this feature is setting the GPU to run at its highest power state all the time, but it might also let owners adjust idle power states for stability (an issue that led to some users experiencing black screens and system crashes early in the life of Polaris, as we understand it).[/quote<] This has been the feature I've most missed. I look forward to being able to make use of it again!

      • Shobai
      • 2 years ago

      Just had a chance to update and test this functionality out: I can’t get it to work, via Global WattMan, on my R9 290 – the memory clock slider has no effect on memory clocks.

      I’d appreciate it if AMD would fix this regression…

      [edit: as ever, this is with two monitors attached to the GPU]

      • DoomGuy64
      • 2 years ago

      I hope this fixes the low power memory states in Hawaii, which have been basically eliminated since the doom update. You get either full speed or 150mhz, which oscillates rapidly with use instead of a range of speeds, and dual monitors mean full speed 100% of the time.

      I’ve been complaining to AMD ever since they broke this, and never once got a reply or acknowledgement that they broke it.

        • Shobai
        • 2 years ago

        It doesn’t, as far as I can tell, at least with multiple monitors.

        I haven’t received any response from them from my various feedback and bug reports, either.

    • NoOne ButMe
    • 2 years ago

    Nice stuff.

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