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Catalyst Control Center debuts
ATI supplied us with a beta copy of its Catalyst 4.10 drivers to go along with the Radeon X700 XT card. Like all new video drivers, these drivers are 400% more powerful and 600% more bug-free than the previous revision. This time around, though, there are some really noteworthy changes to ATI's software. The most visible of those changes is ATI's new Catalyst Control Center, a fancy new user interface for tweaking graphics options. The Catalyst Control Center features a "3D preview" window that purportedly shows the impact of various graphics settings. Here's how it looks.

In my view, the preview scene is a little too small, a little too foggy, and a little too atypical to show the likely impact of changes to graphics options. However, for those whose are utterly befuddled by the multitude of image quality and performance options available in a modern graphics driver, I'm sure this little scene must be better than absolutely nothing.

As you can see, the Catalyst Control Center looks quite slick. The interface is skinnable, and the Control Center installs with a selection of different skins.

Beyond the look and the preview window, though, I'm mostly unimpressed with Catalyst Control Center in its current state. In part because it requires Microsoft's .NET Framework, the new drivers with CCC are a massive download, well over three times the size of NVIDIA's latest drivers and almost twice the size of ATI's previous driver revs. Also, the Control Center lacks polish, despite all the glitz. Using the default skin, pictured above, the CCC's responses are sluggish and slow to refresh, as if the Control Center weren't accelerated by ATI's own 2D screen drawing capabilities. Some options have slider labels (low, standard, high) where there are no slider stops (only low and high are actual options). And on close of the application, the Control Center insists on relocating the mouse pointer to the center of the screen.

This software isn't ready for prime time yet. I'm surprised ATI released it to the world as part of its Catalyst 4.9 driver drop. More troubling than the bugs and quirks is the basic interface design, which is sometimes baffling. One of my monitors doesn't always show up properly via plug-and-play detection, so I have to set the refresh rate manually. On NVIDIA cards, that just means setting the refresh rate in the Windows "Monitor" tab in Display Properties. With ATI's old drivers, one also had to set the refresh rate via the "Displays" tab in the ATI control panel. This option is positively hidden in Catalyst Control Center, requiring a right-click on a portion of the screen that doesn't look clickable at all. Took me longer than I'd care to admit to find it; I honestly thought it wasn't there. In a similar vein, the "no preview" mode for advanced users doesn't expose all the driver options at once, despite using a massive amount of screen real estate. Some of the options are static in the dialog box, while finding others requires use of a scroll bar. I don't know why.

I can see what ATI was hoping to do with the Control Center, and its goals are admirable. ATI is obviously trying to improve the usability of its drivers, and the CCC may yet become what it was intended to be. The company needs to rethink some of its decisions in order to get there, though.