ATI Catalyst 7.4 Performance Analysis (Windows XP)

Catalyst 7.4 release came early, but with only a single noted performance improvement, should we rush to update?

Manufacturer: none
4 minutes & 48 seconds read time

Introduction and Release Notes


When we received an email from ATI/AMD the other day we were a little shocked that we would see a Catalyst set significantly earlier then we have over the past few months. The reason for this would probably be that with the R600 coming out early next month ATI did not want to release the 7.4s with the 7.5s due out only a week later.

The release notes are a bit sparse with only the single performance improvement below mentioned.

Performance improvements

OpenGL performance under the Windows Vista operating system improved for all Radeon X1000 series of products, in both single card and hardware CrossFire configurations. Typical Improvements of 15% or more can be seen in games such as Doom 3, Quake 4 and Prey, with enthusiast class products seeing improvements of 30% or more.

So not a lot happening by the look of things, especially if you are not one of those who has already switched over to Vista. Nevertheless, let us give these drivers a workout on our testing rig and see if they are worth an update.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark05

Test System Setup

Processor(s): Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 3150MHz or 350MHz FSB 1:1
Motherboard(s): ASUS P5B Deluxe (Supplied by ASUS)
Memory: 2 X 1GB G.Skill HZ PC8000 @ 350MHz 4-4-4-12 (Supplied by Bronet)
Hard Disk(s): Hitachi 80GB 7200RPM SATA 2
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2

The single performance improvement mentioned in the release notes is only for Vista and only concentrates on OpenGL performance. We do not use Vista for our testing for the biggest reason that, at this stage, gaming performance is still not there. While with this driver release Vista might see performance increases of 15% - and up to 30% on enthusiast class products like the Radeon X1950 series - it is still not going to be capable of performing as well as a Windows XP machine.

With all that said if you are a Vista user and you have seen performance improvements let us know via the forum comments.


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120
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3DMark05 is now the second latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and above.

For more information on the 3DMark05 benchmark, we recommend you read our preview here.

Straight away we can see that there are no performance gains across the board.

Benchmarks - 3DMark06


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 102
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3DMark06 is the very latest version of the "Gamers Benchmark" from FutureMark. The newest version of 3DMark expands on the tests in 3DMark05 by adding graphical effects using Shader Model 3.0 and HDR (High Dynamic Range lighting) which will push even the best DX9 graphics cards to the extremes.

3DMark06 also focuses on not just the GPU but the CPU using the Ageia PhysX software physics library to effectively test single and dual-core processors.

3DMark06 paints the same picture with no gains to be seen again.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2 (Lost Coast)

Half Life 2 (Lost Coast)

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
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By taking the suspense, challenge and visceral charge of the original, and adding startling new realism, responsiveness and new HDR technology, Half-Life 2 Lost Coast opens the door to a world where the player's presence affects everything around him, from the physical environment to the behaviors even the emotions of both friends and enemies.

We benchmark Half Life 2 Lost Coast with our own custom timedemos as to avoid possible driver optimizations using the "record demo_name" command and loading the timedemo with the "timedemo demo_name" command - For a full list of the commands, click here.

Our HDR on and off tests in Half Life Lost Coast also show no gains.

Benchmarks - Prey


Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: HardwareOC Custom Benchmark
Developer Homepage:
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Prey is one of the newest games to be added to our benchmark lineup. It is based off the Doom 3 engine and offers stunning graphics passing what we have seen in Quake 4 and does put quite a lot of strain on our test systems.

Prey performance has not moved at all, it would seem that the OpenGL performance is only for Vista as mentioned in the release notes.

Benchmarks - Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes

Version and / or Patch Used:Demo
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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Company of Heroes, or COH as we are calling it, is one of the latest World War II games to be released and also one of the newest in our lineup of benchmarks. It is a super realistic real-time strategy (RTS) with plenty of cinematic detail and great effects. Because of its detail, it will help stress out even the most impressive computer systems with the best graphics cards - especially when you turn up all the detail. We use the built-in test to measure the frame rates.

The minimum at the higher res here has taken a slight dip though the average is still the same.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

In our High Quality tests we bump the Antialiasing (AA) and Anisotropic Filtering (AF) up causing the card(s) to be put under more load. This usually helps us remove the CPU limitation. We normally use 4 x AA and 16 x AF as this is quite a common setup for most people who are venturing into the AA and AF area.

Cranking up the AA and AF we can see that no difference in performance is seen.

The increased load onto Lost Coast shows us no performance difference.

The only form of performance increase we have seen in the whole driver set comes with a bump in performance from the X1950XTX in the OpenGL based Prey.

Final Thoughts

For Windows XP users there is nothing to write home about in the latest incarnation of the Catalyst driver suite, no doubt ATI/AMD is putting all its focus into the R600, and for good reason, it really does need to kick butt otherwise the company is not facing your standard uphill battle and will have to be able to climb a vertical wall.

If you are a Vista user and you have seen a performance jump in OpenGL based games let us know via the comments below. For those of you still running XP, our advice is to save your bandwidth and time and just skip this month's update.

Hopefully next month will be a lot more positive for ATI/AMD with the R600 release, fingers cross there are no more delays.

Until then Happy Gaming!

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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