ATI Catalyst 7.8 Performance Analysis

AMD has just released a new set of ATI Catalyst 7.8 drivers for Radeon graphics cards - we check out performance under Win XP.

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Well and truly past that half way mark for the year, we find ourselves half way through the month of August and a new ATI Catalyst release from the folks over at AMD.

We should really see a big focus for improvements over the next few months thanks to the large Radeon line up now available on the market and their need to gain momentum in the market. No doubt, performance sells!

There are big promises this month so let's see what they are before we move forward.

Performance Improvements

Lost Planet DX10 with anti-aliasing improves 11% or greater on Radeon™ HD2900XT products

Radeon™ HD2600 and Radeon™ HD2400 (single and CrossFire™) show improvements of as much as 6% in 3DMark 2006 and 3DMark 2005

Serious Sam 2 with HDR enabled improves as much as 14.5% on Radeon™ HD2900, Radeon™ HD2600 and Radeon™ HD2400 products

Important message from the Editor

We receive the ATI Catalyst drivers well before they go up online the AMD website and before the release notes are written. While we don't always get the opportunity to test the particular applications that are mentioned in the release notes, we try to cover all our bases by testing the following - synthetic, real-world, HDR, OpenGL, Direct3D along with AA and AF.

If there is an application improvement that we haven't tested feel free to use the forums and comment on anything you notice as that will be a good resource for other users, too.

Moving on now we have got that clear with you all!

Test System Setup and 3DMark05

Test System Setup

Processor(s): Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 3GHz (333MHz x 9)
Motherboard(s): DFI P35 (Supplied by Bronet)
Memory: 2 X 1GB G.Skill HZ PC8000 4-4-4-5 (Supplied by Bronet)
Hard Disk(s): Hitachi 80GB 7200RPM SATA-2
Operating System: Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 7.7, ATI Catalyst 7.8 and DX9c

The test system has gone through a slight change thanks to the DFI P35 being on the test bench at the moment. With such a multitude of great P35 boards out at the moment we will no doubt move to something else next month but what particularly, we're not sure just yet.

With some expected performance improvements, let's just get stuck straight into it and find out what we've got here in the latest driver.


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 130
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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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.

We can see the gain in the mid-range Radeon family. Unfortunately the HD 2900 XT doesn't see anything new though it wasn't mentioned in the performance improvements section.

Benchmarks - 3DMark06


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 110
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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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.

We can also see the improvements in the newer 3DMark like promised.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2 (Lost Coast HDR)

Half Life 2 (Lost Coast HDR)

Version and / or Patch Used: Latest from Steam
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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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.

While not mentioned we also see that Half Life sees improvements. What was mentioned was Serious Sam 2 with HDR enabled, it's possible that this also translated to HDR improvements in HL2 like we're seeing here.

Benchmarks - Prey


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

OpenGL performance hasn't moved this much but AMD are really up there these days, no longer is Nvidia really the ultimate king of OpenGL.

Benchmarks - Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5
Timedemo or Level Used: Built-in Test
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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Company of Heroes, or COH as we're 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.

Company of Heroes performance doesn't see anything exciting. It fluctuates a little between the cards and resolutions but nothing that we can really comment on for sure.

Benchmarks - High Quality AA and AF

High Quality AA and AF

Our high quality tests let us separate the men from the boys and the ladies from the girls. If the cards weren't struggling before they will start to now.

The 3DMark performance promise also translated to a slight bump in our AA/AF test.

HDR has clearly seen an improvement this month and when we turn AA and AF on we can see another bump up in the right direction.

The HD 2900 XT saw a bump in performance but apart from that OpenGL remains the same.

Final Thoughts

Talk about one extreme to the other - the 7.7driver set did very little for us in just about every way but the 7.8 drivers have knocked the ball out of the court. These are an absolutely fantastic driver for anyone who has or is thinking about adopting a new HD 2600 card from AMD.

This could be the driver we need to get the performance up and above the Nvidia competition. We will be looking at this shortly in separate articles as the HD 2600 review samples are piling up and it's time to see what they can really do.

Something else that is worth noting that wasn't mentioned was the fact that this driver includes full support for the HD 2400 XT, we would have tested the card but with the 7.7 drivers not supporting it, we didn't really have the opportunity, we will look at it though next month.

A great driver from AMD and the chances are you will find yourself upgrading straight away, at least you should!

Until next month, 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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