New features in Catalyst 7.1 for Vista
On the top of the list is support for Blu-ray and HD-DVD playback which means that not only will you be able to playback such next-generation content but also have your Radeon off-load work from the CPU to the GPU and improve image quality through AVIVO. During our testing we checked the control panel for AVIVO settings and discovered all the usual options such as de-interlacing and pull down detection. If you're running the 64-bit version of Vista, you'll need to wait for Cat 7.3 in March for this feature.
Probably the most important feature included in Cat 7.1 for Vista for gamers is support for Crossfire dual graphics. Until now both nVidia and AMD have lacked dual graphics supports in all their previous Vista drivers and it's great to see AMD has taken care of this missing feature. During our testing with the driver, we used a couple of Radeon X1950PRO cards on an Intel P965 motherboard and everything worked perfectly.
In this release, there is only support for DirectX 3D Crossfire - OpenGL Crossfire support is coming in a future ATI Catalyst release but it is not a bad start at least for the new OS. Crossfire Alternate Frame Rendering (AFR) mode is not ready yet but it's coming soon for Vista and is to be enabled by default for all applications. If you're a gamer, Cat 7.1 for Vista is going to make your life a little better. It's clear though from not just AMD but nVidia as well that the drives are not fully refined yet and each intend on improving with new releases.
AMD promised performance and stability improves in Cat 7.1 for Vista and we can confirm that the driver works well in DX3D games and performance has improved over the previous release but we'll cover that later in more detail in our benchmarks.
For a little while now AMD has had a new install manager for their Vista drivers (you won't see these changes in XP, Vista only) which doesn't offer much new functionality, at this stage, but looks good, as you can see above. In the future, AMD plans on giving users of their cards and Vista the ability to use their upcoming download manager allowing you to download new drivers, without visiting their website. And talking about driver updates for Vista (as with Windows XP) AMD plans on releasing a new Vista driver every month - great news for gamers.