ATI Catalyst 6.5 Performance Analysis

Yesterday ATI released their newest set of Catalyst drivers and we take our usual look at the performance changes.

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6 minutes & 11 seconds read time


ATI was running a little late this month with the release of their latest drivers and there were questions popping up asking where the latest Catalyst drivers were. Now we can say that they are available and ready for you to download from the ATI website.

Apart from the performance improvements you can see below, Adaptive Anti-Aliasing has been added to the Radeon 9550 and above models. Originally Adaptive AA, which is a feature which adjusts its detail level depending on the performance, was only seen in the X1000 series of cards.

Overlay Theater Mode update has also been included for people using the X1000 series of cards and using two monitors. Overlay Theater works on both displays when running in Clone mode.

Let's have a quick look at the release notes before we get stuck into the benchmarking.

Release Notes

From ATI:

Performance Improvements

As with most Catalyst releases, performance has increased in various situations. The PCI Express bandwidth optimization code in Catalyst 6.5 brings performance improvements for both the ATI Radeon X1600 and Radeon X1300 Crossfire configurations, including:
UT2004 Up to 23% gain
Splinter Cell Up to 20% gain

ATI are claiming performance increases mostly in low to mid range graphics cards, let's find out if this is true over the next few pages.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and 3DMark03

Test System Setup

Processor(s): AMD Athlon X2 3800+
Motherboard(s): ASUS A8N32-SLI Premium (Supplied by ASUS)
Memory: 2 X 1GB Crucial PC4000 DDR (Supplied by Crucial)
Hard Disk(s): Western Digital Raptor 74GB 10,000RPM (Supplied by Western Digital)
Operating System: Windows XP Professional SP2
Drivers: ATI Catalyst 6.4 and 6.5 and DX9c

This is the final month of our current benchmarking application line up. The next time you see our Catalyst article we will be cranking it up with some new benchmarks and hopefully some new wide screen resolutions which cannot be done on our current test bed monitor. (Editor Note: OK OK - I get it!)

The major change this month is the fact we have ceased using the Radeon X1800XT and switched to using the newer Radeon X1900XT. It is current generation and many people have asked us to add it and we have - that is us though, we listen to the people.

Now would also be a good time to give us your feedback on what new benchmarking applications you would like to see us using in our driver comparisons and VGA reviews. Please leave your comments below or send us an email.


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 360
Developer Homepage:
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By combining full DX8 and partial DX9 support with completely new tests and graphics over the previous version, 3DMark03 continues the legacy of being the industry standard 3D benchmark.

The X1900XT sees a slight increase in performance in both resolutions but it's almost something that we can just put down to fluctuation.

Benchmarks - 3DMark05


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 120
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

3DMark05 is the latest version in the popular 3DMark "Gamers Benchmark" series. It includes a complete set of DX9 benchmarks which tests Shader Model 2.0 and higher.

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

Across the board we see that there is no performance difference between all the cards at both resolutions.

Benchmarks - 3DMark06


Version and / or Patch Used: Build 102
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.

With the last of the 3DMark tests we see no performance increases anywhere.

Benchmarks - Far Cry

Far Cry

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.3
Timedemo or Level Used: PC Games Hardware Demo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

There is no denying that Far Cry is currently one of the most graphic intensive games on the market, utilizing PS2.0 technology (the latest versions support Shader Model 3.0 with DX9c) and offering an exceptional visual experience there is no denying that even some of the faster graphics cards struggle.

Moving to Far Cry which will be the first game to leave us next month we see no performance improvements anywhere.

Benchmarks - Half Life 2

Half Life 2

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
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 and responsiveness, Half-Life 2 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 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.

Half Life 2 also sees no performance increase on any of the cards.

Benchmarks - Doom 3

Doom 3

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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Doom 3 is the latest game to hit our test lab and is one of the most intensive games to dates. With our own custom time demo we are able to give a realistic rating on what kind of FPS you will be achieving.

For more information on benchmarking Doom 3 we recommend you check out our extensive article regarding it here.

The high-end Radeon X1900XT didn't see anything here and actually saw a drop at the lower resolution. We can see though that the X1300/1600 and X800XL all saw a performance increase... and quite a good one at that.

Benchmarks - Quake 4

Quake 4

Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Quake 4 is one of the latest new games to be added to our benchmark suite. It is based off the popular Doom 3 engine and as a result uses many of the features seen in Doom. However, Quake 4 graphics are more intensive than Doom 3 and should put more strain on different parts of the system.

Quake 4 like Doom 3 sees a drop in X1900XT performance but an increase in all the other runs. It would seem that OpenGL has once again been tweaked. ATI are right on nVidia when it comes to OpenGL performance these days.

Benchmarks - F.E.A.R.


Version and / or Patch Used: Unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Custom Timedemo
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon) is an intense combat experience with rich atmosphere and a deeply intense paranormal storyline presented entirely in first person. Be the hero in your own spine-tingling epic of action, tension, and terror...and discover the true meaning of F.E.A.R.

We can see a drop in the X1900XT like our previous two benchmarks but no performance increase is seen on the other cards. F.E.A.R. being so intensive doesn't help the situation.

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 use 4 x AA and 8 x AF as this is quite a common setup for most people who are venturing into the AA and AF area.

Across the board performance is the same except the X1900XT has taken a very easily spotted dip in performance.

Far Cry hasn't seen anything exciting to report about.

While the mid-range cards saw an increase in performance in Quake 4, when we turn on AA and AF performance was almost exactly the same across the board.

Final Thoughts

Nothing really exciting across the board except for the jump in non AA/AF Open GL performance for the Low to Mid range line up. If you're playing Splinter Cell or UT2004, these drivers should give you a healthy increase and will make your upgrade totally worthwhile.

We are excited about re-working our benchmark line up so we can give you a clearer picture into some more modern games.

Keep an eye out for the Catalyst 6.6 drivers next month as nobody knows when they are going to pop up and surprise us.

Until next month, Happy Benchmarking!

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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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