Examining AMD’s Driver Progress Since Launch Drivers: R9 290X & HD 7970



/ 2 months ago

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Introduction


AMD_Catalyst_12.6

AMD and Nvidia both talk fairly big when it comes to driver updates. With every driver iteration that is released we hear the usual technical (or should that be marketing?) talk about improved performance in this, that and the other. After a lot of thinking I decided I wanted to investigate further. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much progress AMD and Nvidia actually make with their drivers over the duration of a product’s life cycle? We’ll be starting this two piece series with AMD and in particular I want to look at the last two flagship single GPUs of each generation. I’ll be putting the XFX AMD HD 7970 Double Dissipation 3GB graphics card on the test bench along with the XFX AMD R9 290X Double Dissipation 4GB graphics card: that’s the flagship single GPUs of the HD 7000 and R9 2xx series. I will be benchmarking both graphics cards on an identical test system at stock clocks under two different scenarios. Scenario 1 is using the AMD driver package that they launched with and scenario 2 is using the most recent AMD driver package made available. In this way we are able to see the driver progress that AMD’s HD 7970 and R9 290X have made since they were both launched.

HD7970

AMD’s HD 7970

 

AMD’s HD 7970 was launched on December 22nd 2011 and used AMD Catalyst driver package version 11.12 RC11, this was a special beta driver release for the AMD HD 7970 as official support wasn’t added until Catalyst 12.2 WHQL was released. AMD’s R9 290X launched on October 24th 2013 and used AMD Catalyst driver package version 13.11 Beta 6. The most recent driver package release from AMD (at the time of writing this article) is Catalyst 14.7 RC1. Of course AMD’s HD 7970 has had a significant amount more time on the market, nearly 3 years, whereas the R9 290X has had less than 1 year. It is also worth noting both the R9 290X and HD 7970 are built on virtually identically 28nm GCN architecture so many of the largest optimisations had already been made for the GCN architecture before the R9 290X was even released. That’s a long-winded way of saying we will see dramatically more progress with the HD 7970 than the R9 290X. However, either way it will be really interesting to see what the results show, so let’s get on with some testing!

AMD's R9 290X

AMD’s R9 290X

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  • charley machicote

    send me the 290 my hd 7970 is failing me

    • Pilot

      stop mining BTC/LTC then

  • Kuivamaa

    None of your tested games was released when 7970 launch drivers became available. At the same time, all of your tested games were released by the time 290X launch drivers were available (even BF4 was specifically targeted by those betas). In that sense your findings are flawed. 14.7 doesn’t bring much to the table for 290X not because it is GCN and a known architecture but mainly because the launch driver was already optimized for those titles that you tested. Try the same approach with Watch Dogs or something as fresh and the picture will be different.

    • http://www.eteknix.com/ Ryan Martin

      That;s true – most games were released pre- 11.12 RC11 but that doesn’t make the results invalid IMO, they are still built from pre-existing established APIs. I think the point about the GCN architecture that you’ve mentioned is more relevant, I also mentioned that in the conclusion: there is minimal scope for major gains in GCN performance as the architecture is already well optimised with drivers. Thanks for your input, will consider.

  • telez

    This is definitly interesting. Too bad it’s only for high-end gpu’s. Try testing this on lower-end and it would be worse. Also, the problem with AMD drivers is consistency: for mobility there are long known bugs with black screens and no video aceleration. There is still some bugged mouse cursor around. They mostly fix something and break something.
    (i’m not an AMD hater btw)

    • http://www.eteknix.com/ Ryan Martin

      Agreed. AMD drivers have bug issues (but so do many Nvidia driver releases). In that regard this article was not exploring bugs and driver issues but pure in-game performance, but yes that’s also something to consider that we may explore.

    • Pilot

      Am willing to bet the low end have more performance than the high end. And its the exact opposite for Nvidia.

  • xxxxKxxxx

    There is no GCN 2.0 yet. GCN 1.0 and GCN 1.1.

  • jdwii

    How much longer until we can see Nvidia’s progress?

  • Erik Levine

    I find this very interesting because i have a Gigabyte HD 7970 ghz edition gpu, which has slightly faster speeds than the XFX card. I have been thinking about upgrading my card to a 290x but i think now i will not. My card plays just about anything at max settings and i have had no problems since i bought it. Seeing the improvements from 7970 to 290x is nice but not enough for me to upgrade, yet.