This morning, AMD took the wraps off its latest major update to its Radeon Software driver package: Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition. Unlike past Radeon Software releases, however, Adrenalin (think red like a rose, not fight-or-flight like the hormone) only introduces one major new feature in the driver package itself, and it doesn’t even provide a major leap in performance over recent Radeon Software releases.
Unlike the major driver updates of yore, those jolts of performance have been spread across the company’s driver releases in the year since Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition broke cover. Gamers have certainly enjoyed a year of cumulative performance improvements for day-one releases and older software alike from the many driver updates that have arrived since ReLive, of course, but it’s hard to make headlines out of constant improvement. We aren’t even getting a major list of fixed bugs to commemorate the occasion, as we might have in past AMD software releases.
So what is Adrenalin all about? If Catalyst Omega was about performance, Radeon Software Crimson Edition was about stability, and Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition was about features, my take is that Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition is about making Radeon Software more accessible and more tied into the shared experience that characterizes today’s game streamers and spectators. Through social-minded updates to Radeon Settings, a globally-available Radeon Overlay, and a brand-new mobile app called AMD Link, AMD wants to give gamers easier access to the wealth of features in its driver software and let them share their experiences far and wide.
Radeon Settings gets more extroverted
The basic interface of Radeon Settings hasn’t changed all that much since Radeon Software Crimson Edition, but it’s becoming more of a social hub in Adrenalin. AMD has added a new “Connect” tab to the main Radeon Settings screen that offers three tabs of its own: Gallery, Accounts, and Resource Center.
Gallery holds all of the screenshots, instant replays, and recordings that a gamer captures using ReLive and Radeon Software. Select a video or screenshot, and Radeon Settings will show basic info about the file, present a playback interface for videos, and offer basic editing tools like a trim function for video content.
Once a given clip or picture is tweaked, users can share those achievements with the world through a variety of outlets. Radeon Settings can integrate with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Twitch, and Microsoft’s Mixer service for quick posting of screenshots and videos to those services. For users in China, Radeon Settings can also hook into Sina Weibo and Youku.
For AMD fans and users who want more news and info regarding Radeon software and hardware direct from the source, the company plans to communicate with them through the Resource Center. This tab will offer links to articles and videos regarding AMD technology, as well as instructive material explaining ways to get the most out of Radeon software and hardware.
AMD Links up mobile devices with Radeon Software
The wonders of modern technology mean we usually have a smartphone with us at all times, and AMD wants to take Radeon Software to those second screens with an app for iOS and Android called AMD Link. This app allows gamers to monitor various parameters of graphics-card performance without cluttering up their view of a game. It also serves as a handy remote control for the capture, streaming, and screenshot features of ReLive.
Since I don’t have an Android device handy, I couldn’t preview AMD Link before today’s Adrenalin launch (and the iOS app still isn’t live as of this writing.) That said, AMD Link connects, in theory, to a given PC running Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition on a local network. Once it’s connected, AMD Link can show various vital signs of the host system’s graphics card and FPS rates (though no frame-time info) for running games. We’ll talk more about what Link can monitor when we discuss the Radeon Overlay itself.
For those content with their system’s performance and vital statistics, Link can remotely order ReLive to kick off a stream, take a screenshot, or start a local recording. As we’ll see, the Radeon Overlay offers plenty of in-game control over ReLive’s streaming features, but some folks may enjoy the convenience and assurance of pressing a distinct button on a separate device.
ReLive beefs up with even more streamer-friendly features
AMD is further expanding the capabilities of its ReLive capture app today with several features that streamers will likely find handy. ReLive can now perform chroma keying to knock out solid-color backgrounds, a capability that allows the app to overlay camera feeds of the streamer on a game without a distracting border or obscuring background. ReLive can now incorporate transparent chat windows from Twitch, Facebook, Mixer, and Youtube into a streamer’s video, as well.
With Adrenalin Edition, ReLive gets the tools it needs to capture video from Vulkan sources like Wolfensten II: The New Colossus, Doom, The Talos Principle, and Dota 2. Vulkan may not be the most widely-used API yet, but the games that do support it are big deals, and it’s nice to see new vistas of streaming opportunity open up this way.
On top of its new API support, ReLive now offers two new methods of capturing content. The first, borderless region capture, will apparently clip the chrome off a window to show only its contents to viewers. I’d love to tell you more about how this works, but I couldn’t even set up hotkeys for this new feature with my RX Vega 64 testbed, much less direct it to capture a window. Folks with Eyefinity multi-display setups should have the ability to capture the entire span of their multi-monitor monstrosity on the way to streaming or recording it, though I don’t have the monitors handy to test such a workload. On the audio front, ReLive can now put game audio and a streamer’s mic audio on separate tracks for easier editing in post-processing, too.
More games get a Chill
Radeon Chill also enjoys greatly expanded compatibility with today’s games in Adrenalin. If you’re not already familiar with the feature, Radeon Chill analyzes in-game action and inputs to dynamically adjust frame rates. This feature prevents the waste of power and computing resources on largely static scenes with small frame-to-frame differences. In our experience, Chill can net major power-consumption and noise-reduction figures for Radeon cards without affecting games’ responsiveness. Neat as Chill is, though its appeal has been limited since its launch thanks to a restrictive list of compatible games: a total of 22 as of Radeon Software 17.7.2.
Examples of average power consumption for a Radeon RX Vega 64 with and without Chill enabled. Source: AMD
Since Chill’s introduction, AMD says it’s continued to test a wide range of games with the feature while tuning its algorithm and ensuring that software plays well with its dynamic nature. With Adrenalin Edition, the company is now confident enough that Chill won’t have adverse effects on gameplay that it’s doing away with the whitelist entirely and replacing it with a blacklist of incompatible titles. AMD is stopping short of enabling the feature by default in its drivers, but it’s so sure that Chill won’t muck with gameplay experiences that it hasn’t put a single title on its blacklist yet. In short, when Chill is on, it’s on in Adrenalin.
Chill now starts with a 70-FPS minimum target and a 144-FPS maximum, though it doesn’t jump right to that FPS maximum when a game transitions from largely static content to a regular movement speed in a shooter, for example. (If you want a rev limiter for your frame rate, you want Frame Rate Target Control.) Instead, Chill’s algorithm throttles back a game to the minimum frame rate possible in largely static scenes, as promised. In more active sequences, it won’t floor the card’s accelerator pedal. Instead, our frame-rate monitoring tools show that Chill tends to find something resembling a midpoint between the minimum and maximum frame rate settings, or it’ll simply run the card at its maximum possible frame rate if a given game can’t run at that apparent midpoint. To be fair, we know that frame rates change far faster than a one-second or wider update window can capture in most monitoring utilities, so it’s likely that some especially fast frames are being rendered behind the scenes. Still, the net result is not a flat 300 FPS on average in lightweight titles, even if you do max out Chill’s slider. This is still a power-saving feature, after all.
On our reference Radeon RX Vega 64, and with a 60 FPS-to-300-FPS range, this behavior tended to ramp the card’s fan speeds up and down in a rather annoying—though understandable—pattern in Wolfenstein II. Chill was allowing the Vega 64 to hit its well-over-100-FPS potential when the game was in full motion, and we know that the card is sucking down plenty of wattage at those frame rates. Using Chill’s narrower 70-FPS-to-144-FPS range, the algorithm tended not to cause quite so much of a racket. Even with its newfound range of compatibility, Chill still seems best employed in games like Doom, Wolfenstein II, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that have performance potential to spare on high-end, high-wattage Radeons. I’d appreciate the option to bias Chill’s apparent “midpoint” toward extra-quiet operation or higher performance when a game is in motion, but the feature otherwise lives up to its promises without catastropic consequences for the games I tested.
Enhanced Sync enhances all GCN Radeons
In keeping with the same-features-in-more-places theme, AMD is also bringing Enhanced Sync to every GCN-powered graphics card, not just those with Polaris and Vega GPUs. Recall that Enhanced Sync is a rendering method that allows the graphics card and game engine to run at unlimited frame rates while letting the monitor display only the most recent completed frame. This approach provides better input lag than traditional vsync while minimizing ugly tearing artifacts. The company claims this update was the most requested by its users since the feature made its debut back in July. On top of its broader graphics-card support, Enhanced Sync now works with Vulkan titles like Doom and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. It works with multi-GPU configurations. It works with Eyefinity. Whatever esoteric Radeon setup you have, Enhanced Sync likely works with it now so long as it’s GCN.
An example frame-time plot of Enhanced Sync versus traditional vsync in Overwatch. Source: AMD
I didn’t play with Enhanced Sync when it first launched with Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition 17.7.2, and boy, was I missing out. In combination with a 144-Hz FreeSync monitor, Adrenalin’s Enhanced Sync proved utterly intoxicating when I fired up Doom‘s Vulkan renderer on our Radeon RX Vega 64 testbed. The preternatural smoothness and responsiveness of Enhanced Sync with the game running at its 200-FPS cap is hard to put into words, and my FreeSync monitor never let tearing rear its head even when frame rates dipped below the display’s maximum refresh rate. Not every Radeon graphics card will offer a similarly swift experience, to be fair, but if yours can push more than even 60 FPS on a 60-Hz display, it’s definitely worth enabling Enhanced Sync in exchange for its minor input lag penalty.
As with every Radeon Software release, there are some minor improvements that are largely self-explanatory. Here’s a grab bag of those improvements, in no particular order:
- Folks who create custom overclocking profiles using the WattMan utility can now save and share those profiles with others using an import-and-export function in the WattMan interface. Although overclocking potential varies by chip, shared profiles for a given GPU might help members of the community get off on a better foot when exploring the untapped performance potential of their Radeons.
- Frame Rate Target Control, which places a hard cap on the frame rate a Radeon can produce for better efficiency, now works with Vulkan titles like Doom, Dota 2, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, and The Talos Principle.
- A new Compute profile under the GPU Workload setting in WattMan could potentially increase performance for cryptocurrency mining applications on some Radeons.
- Those with multiple Radeons in their PCs can now enjoy borderless-window mode for theoretically smoother alt-tabbing in and out of games.
Now that we’ve seen the various refinements and additions that make up Adrenalin Edition, let’s see how AMD is bringing some those features together into one easy-to-access in-game interface.
The Radeon Overlay gets its game face on
If we needed further proof that Adrenalin Edition is about making the power of Radeon Software more accessible, we need look no further than the Radeon Overlay. Anybody who’s had to alt-tab out of a game for any reason knows that not every game handles the trip gracefully, and that unpredictable behavior can be especially annoying if a title crashes while you’re attempting to stream or benchmark it. Multiple monitors, windowed applications, and hotkeys can help reduce the need to switch in and out of a game, but there’s nothing like a direct interface to a given piece of software for control and convenience. The Radeon Overlay brings Radeon Software to a natural home: inside the game.
Pressing Alt+R with Adrenalin Edition installed will pull up this new sidebar on both the desktop and in games. Depending on the options enabled in Radeon Settings, the overlay might show tabs for ReLive, Performance Monitoring, Frame Rate Target Control, Chill, FreeSync, and Color. Despite its claimed Vulkan support, I didn’t see a tab for Frame Rate Target Control even with the global switch for the feature enabled. Just another wrinkle of early software, I guess.
A variety of ReLive settings in the Radeon Overlay. Source: AMD
The ReLive tab lets gamers record instant replays (using a predefined window of time like a minute of preceding gameplay), record gameplay, start and stop streams, and take screenshots. It also offers some control over streaming and recording settings, though folks trying to start from scratch will still need to go through the Radeon Settings interface.
To give ReLive a spin through the overlay, I connected the software to my Twitch account by logging in through the main Radeon Settings window. I then ran a brief stream of Doom‘s Vulkan renderer to kill two birds with one stone: one by testing the Radeon Overlay itself for convenience and the other by making sure that ReLive’s claimed Vulkan support works as promised. Happily, I found ReLive a snap to use through the Overlay, and it broadcast my Doom fumblings without complaint. The app will notify you once a stream has started successfully, and it’ll pop a stream timer up in a corner of your screen by default. Unfortunately, this stream timer shows on the stream itself, while the Radeon Overlay doesn’t. Neither overlay should show up on stream, in my opinion. Still, if ReLive is your preferred streaming platform of choice, the Radeon Overlay makes life easy.
The Performance Monitoring tab is rich with options, but it mushes together a lot of data points without a whole lot of apparent thought given to the question of what actually measures graphics-card performance. If it’s frame-rate and frame-time data that a user is after, AMD already has a powerful and flexible performance-tracking utility in its Open Capture and Analysis Tool (OCAT), so I was hoping that OCAT’s features would make their way into the Radeon Overlay as a foundation for the rest of its performance-monitoring tools. Not so. Performance Monitoring can track a variety of data about the behavior of a graphics card, but its game-performance monitoring is limited to FPS and FPS only. In light of OCAT’s one-touch recording and output of average FPS and frame-time figures, plus the 99th-percentile frame time, all derived from a CSV with full per-frame info, the Overlay’s actual game performance-tracking tools are primitive. There’s no other way to put it.
Sure, the Overlay can track GPU utilization, core clocks, memory clocks, GPU temperature, GPU power draw, fan speed, VRAM utilization, and CPU and system RAM usage, but those numbers are more vital signs than performance indicators (unless AMD built some kind of warning threshold into them that I didn’t encounter thanks to a lack of directed abuse). The informed viewer might be able to glean performance information from those figures (e.g. whether a graphics card is throttling for some reason), but none of them really shout “performance” to me like frame rates and 99th-percentile frame times do. I suppose some kind of monitoring utility like this one is better than none at all, but even casually interested users already have a wealth of free and powerful options to choose from in this space, including GPU-Z or AMD’s own WattMan. The one saving grace is that the Overlay can, well, overlay this data on a game without third-party software and with a single click. That’s quite handy at a glance, even if I wouldn’t bother logging those data points in isolation.
At least the logged data from the overlay ends up in a digestible comma-separated values file, but the CSVs produced this way are dumped among files already present in a difficult-to-access, hard-coded directory: C:\Users\
To be fair, I live and breathe performance measurements in my work, and the average Radeon user almost certainly has more relaxed needs and expectations from a performance-monitoring tool. I also might be irked that the diamond-in-the-rough that is OCAT didn’t get built right into the Radeon Overlay. Toss that in the Overlay, Radeon Software team, replicate its user-friendly manners across the rest of the Performance Monitoring tab, and we’ll have a real winner.
Chill, FreeSync, and FRTC settings in the Radeon Overlay
In some cases, users should get a Frame Rate Target Control, or FRTC, tab on the Radeon Overlay. At first, I couldn’t see FRTC in the Radeon Overlay with Doom running, despite the feature’s newfangled Vulkan support. Turns out you need to explicitly enable it in both global and profile settings for it to show up in a given title. FRTC presents us with just one slider for maximum frame rate anyway, though, so there’s not much to talk about. Crank it up or crank it down as desired.
The Chill tab basically replicates the interface for that feature in Radeon Settings. Given how much tweaking Chill might require to match its parameters to a specfiic game’s performance, having immediate access to its frame-rate range is a boon for those who want to tune the feature precisely against the way a game performs on a given graphics card. If a title doesn’t have a profile set up in Radeon Settings, Chill will merely present the user with its global controls. That might be fine for some, but I would strongly recommend setting up per-game profiles in Radeon Settings to get the most out of Chill and this feature. Another note: FRTC and Chill are interactive, so pushing the upper limit of Chill past the upper limit of FRTC (or lowering FRTC below the upper limit of Chill) will affect the other setting accordingly.
The FreeSync tab offers a per-game on-off switch for its variable-refresh-rate magic. Though I haven’t run into a game that runs worse as a result of variable-refresh-rate tech, it’s possible that the odd title might not play well with FreeSync. Having a per-game toggle for the feature is nice to have in case such an instance arises, as it could provide easy troubleshooting and a simple resolution if a problem does arise.
Finally, the Color tab lets folks adjust color temperature, brightness, hue, contrast, and saturation. These are global settings, and they will not return to defaults upon exiting a game.
Although the Radeon Overlay is undeniably convenient and handy, both the pre-release version of the software that I played with and the final version released today came with a few wrinkles that need smoothing out. For one, the performance-monitoring overlay switched off every time I exited or alt-tabbed out of a game. I would have expected it to remain running across any 3D application until I turned it off again. Modifying Radeon Chill settings using the overlay didn’t communicate those changes to Radeon Settings, so if I wanted a new Chill range to take effect, I had to alt-tab out to Radeon Settings and modify it there. FRTC settings made in-game also didn’t percolate back to Radeon Settings, nor did FRTC settings changes in Radeon Settings affect the displayed figure in the overlay. Finally, turning per-game Chill on and off through the overlay didn’t work, so I had to globally enable and disable Chill to get any kind of response from it. These are early days for the Radeon Overlay, and they may be isolated to my test setup. I’m guessing these problems will be settled with a couple point releases, if that. The overall concept shows plenty of promise, and I think Radeon gamers will find it a handy addition to their in-game experience.
In its presentation for this latest round of Radeon Software, AMD underscored the importance of giving users what they want. With Adrenalin Edition, it’s hard to imagine a lot more a gamer could ask for from a free driver-and-software package for a graphics card. Enhanced Sync now offers tear-reducing goodness to graphics cards pushing six years old. ReLive has evolved from a basic streaming-and-recording tool into a powerful one, and Radeon Software now offers some handy content-management and social integration features as the cherry on top. The AMD Link mobile app might prove handy for folks who don’t want to fool with keyboard shortcuts or content-obscuring overlays when they control their streams or monitor graphics-card vital signs. At the root of all these features, Radeon Settings remains a well-laid-out and simple-to-use utility. Best of all, AMD doesn’t require users to create accounts or link accounts from other services to use Radeon Software (unless they want to).
As good as it may be, Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition can’t solve some of the challenges facing the Radeon Technologies Group right now, namely the supply and pricing of its RX Vega graphics cards at the high end of the market. Stocks of Radeon RX 580s are plentiful again at prices reasonably competitive with GeForce GTX 1060 6GB cards, though, and in that fat middle of the graphics-card pack, every little bit of added value helps. We’ve long hammered home the importance of consistent and high-quality driver updates to the graphics-card ownership experience, and Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition continues to offer all that and more on top of the narrow performance lead that Polaris cards generally hold against the Pascal competition in our recent reviews.
Even if you’re not one of the hyper-social, hyper-connected gamers that AMD expects will enjoy this software most, the grab bag of refinements and performance improvements that Adrenalin Edition offers comes at a price that nobody can complain about. As we’ve been saying since Catalyst Omega kicked off the holiday tradition of big Radeon software updates, give Adrenalin Edition a spin. You’ve got nothing to lose.