As far as 3D performance goes for Catalyst 7.1 WHQL over the previous public release, it's not huge deal but some games see gains of almost 40%. We expected stability issues with gaming in Vista even though these will be the first official release from AMD but we didn't have any issues except for the poor performance of Crossfire under Company of Heroes but according to AMD that will be fixed up in the March driver. AMD said themselves that OpenGL performance will not be great in 7.1 for Vista but at least there is support for it and you can look forward to performance improvements in each new monthly release.
We are glad to see that Crossfire dual graphics is finally supported under Vista for the full range of Radeon X1000 series graphics cards and performance is quite good at this stage - I bet nVidia is a little jealous about that. It's not quite up there compared to Windows XP but it's working quite well nonetheless. You can expect performance increases in this aspect of the driver in future months as AMD fine tune everything.
Besides performance, AMD's ATI Catalyst 7.1 for Vista driver offers a whole bunch of new features and improvements just in time for the launch of Windows Vista. Besides Crossfire support, you've got the ability to playback HD-DVD and Blu-ray content which is accelerated through AVIVO, a new Catalyst installer and a highly improved Catalyst Control Center. No longer does it take forever to start up CCC, the improvement is huge and AMD did a great job here in improving their software and making it much less annoying. There's also a new 3D preview which makes it easier to distinguish the difference between various 3D graphics quality settings and soon you'll even be able to update your drivers through the install manager without visiting any websites.
AMD are clearly very serious about their Vista driver development and it was always our opinion that they were doing a better job than nVidia since testing and release candidate versions of Vista were released. Catalyst 7.1 goes a long way to backing up that statement with not only full support for their latest range of cards but also Crossfire dual graphics that works well and improved features. nVidia will have a new driver out tomorrow (which supports the GeForce 8800 series) in time for the launch of the new OS but we're not sure if that will even come with SLI dual graphics support to the public.
Don't get us wrong though - ATI Catalyst 7.1 for Vista is by no means perfect and the driver team in Canada still has a lot of hard work to do over the following months to continue improving performance for Vista gamers as well as adding features and improving them. For one there is no OpenGL support when running in Crossfire mode (and AFR mode is not ready yet) and performance is still anywhere from 1 - 10% slower than Windows XP in various games.
If you're using Windows Vista, ATI Catalyst 7.1 for Vista will be available for download from the ATI website very soon, so keep an eye out for it and have fun with Vista if you're making the jump to the new OS.