Performance, features, stability and quality, Catalyst 3.8 has them all. And more importantly it has them all in abundance...

...thats what we said back in October 2003 when ATI released their updated driver to the world. That driver included revolutionary features like Overdrive and VPU Recover. 3.8 could really be classed as the first real result of the Catalyst program which took ATI's drivers from mediocre to world class. Since 3.8 not much has changed on the surface of the driver or control panel, a few tweaks here, some performace increases and bugfixes there however noting out of the ordinary. Today that all changes as ATI release Catalyst 4.9 and Catalyst Control Centre.

What is Catalyst Control Centre (ccc)?

CCC is an amalgimation of two things. Firstly CCC is a new interface which completely changes how ATI customers interact with the driver. Secondly CCC allows developers and end users to completely configure the control centre's cosmetics and features.

Lets take a look at the interface first...

CCC can be launched in several ways, firstly there is a desktop shortcut, secondly there is an option in the right click menu of your desktop and thirdly by navigating through Desktop> Properties> Advanced> Catalyst Control Centre.

As CCC uses the .net framework this allows for a much more advanced “control panel” than in previous drivers.

As you can see the above screen is quite different to the old control panel we all know and love(d).

Navigation involves the use of buttons on the left of the interface. When you first open CCC these are set to simple mode however can be changed to advanced if required using the view menu at the top of the interface.

The simple mode settings for 3D gives a slider which cycles through some predefined aa/af and quality settings which most users will find sufficient. For enthusiasts the advanced mode allows specific configuration of the settings as well as making available the option for functionality like Temporal Anti Aliasing.

The observant amongst you will have noticed the 3d scene on the CCC screenshots above. This scene provides end users with a visible representation of how your slider choices will affect ingame display quality. Using fraps it is also possible to measure the frame rate changes that take place when options are applied. This feature is, in our opinion, one of the most useful and evolutionary of those included in the Catalyst Control Centre.

Work has also been done to tidy up features within the old control panel which were not as intuitive as they should have been, an example of this is the overlay video tab (theater mode).

The overlay function, due to its layout, is now much easier for the end user to understand and gives everyone a much clearer explanation of the options available.

Smartgart also receives the makeover treatment showing more detail on what settings have been applied and allowing for specific retests to be actioned by the user. VPU recover's section remains the same as that used in Catalyst 4.8. For those not aware of the VPU recover changes included in 4.8 the advantages of this version are that VPU recover will now attempt to recover to hardware rendering mode meaning users can continue on where as in the past software mode took presidence and a restart of the PC was required to regain hardware rendering.


So thats the basic layout and functionality. CCC doesnt stop there though, accessable through the menu's at the top of the screen are a wealth of additional features, lets take a look at them.

Hotkeys Manager
Hotkeys manager is accessed through the hotkeys menu (surprisingly!).

Hotkeys allows the user to configure key combinations which will fire events/actions on the PC. An example is included in the screenshot above. At any point by pressing “Ctrl-Alt and C” the user can launch Catalyst Control Centre and have quick access to the settings they need or you can apply settings to hotkeys which removes the need to enter CCC to make changes. A great improvement over the “rightclick desktop> properties> displays> advanced” used in other drivers.

Profiles Manager
Profiles Manager is accessed from the profiles menu and is pretty self explanitory. Users can configure various display options dependant on their settings for applications, games, etc. These can then be applied quickly when needed. An aditional option is that selecting the profile can auto launch the application associated with the profile. The advantages of this are mainly time saving, however still useful.


Information Centre
Information Centre is a useful feature where all the important information about your system is visible through the CCC interface. The info centre is accessed through the help menu and is split into four areas. System Hardware (CPU etc), System Software (windows version etc), Graphics Hardware (info on your ATI card) and Graphics Software (Catalyst/CCC information).

We mentioned earlier in this article that there was a lot of scope for developers and end users to configure the cosmetics and functionality of the CCC. Lets take a look at part of that now.

Skinning
No doubt one of the configuration features that will be most used in Catalyst Control Centre is the option to choose or add skins to the interface.

The Skin functionality is accessed from the preferences menu and as you can see from the above screenshot, by default there are 5 available skins. When highlighted the display previews the skin for the user. Its a very simple process. Skins will be created using the Stardocks™ DirectSkin application http://www.skinstudio.net/ and can then be distributed freely.

Development
Adding functionality to the CCC is something that developers are going to find very easy. With the software being based round the .net framework the developer can code in their programming language of choice (C#, C++, C, Visual Basic, Java, etc.). The SDK will be available for free at ATI.com.

The Future
Things dont stand still for long and already there are a few big, and small improvements ready to take their place in CCC. These range from CCC for Radeons prior to R3XX and further redesigns like an updated overdrive panel...

...to excellent features like Download Manager and Application Manager.

Download Manager will work in a similar way to windows update, when new components are released for the driver or CCC Download Manager will get them for the user. Apart from it being good practice to keep components up to date it means ATI can release hotfixes much more easily to end users.

Application Manager allows users to manage their display(s) more effectively. For example applications can be defined areas of the screen to use, profiles can be set up and most interestingly zoom in/out of the application window without experiencing any of the pixelation normally associated with zoom functions.

Conclusion
So there you have it. Catalyst Control Centre is probably the most important driver update released by any company to date. Featuring a user interface far more advanced than any company has previously released and industry leading features such as VPU recover and Overdrive and Auto Update, Catalyst Control Centre is a success in every aspect. The driver carries on the excellent stability of previous Catalysts and adds to that a fully configurable and completely intuative user interface all of which show ATI is the company driving the graphics industry forward.

 



Interview with ATI's Andrew Dodd - Software Product Manager

Hi Andrew, can you explain to our readers what your role in ATI is...maybe a little on your day to day tasks...

[Andrew Dodd] I'm a Software Product Manager, and my main responsibility is to define software requirements as well as the roadmap for a number of the features that go into the CATALYST software suite. I also interact with press and market ATI's software to the outside world. For the last while I've been very involved with almost everything related to the CATALYST Control Center :-)



Who came up with the original concept of CCC?


[Andrew Dodd] The CATALYST Control Center Architect Wayne Louie, came up with the concept of a stand-alone, totally customizable user interface a couple years ago. Once the original Idea was conceived we brain-stormed a huge number of ideas that we knew would make the new user interface a totally incredible product.



How close is the current version to that original concept?


[Andrew Dodd] Pretty close - we've made the user interface much easier to use with innovative features such as the 3D real-time preview, a totally re-designed displays manager that makes setting up displays a very simple task, a very flexible hotkey and profile manager, and a user interface that is totally customizable and skin-able. Obviously I wish we had all of our features currently scheduled within our roadmap available in the first release :-) but other than that, I think we've delivered a very compelling and impressive product.



How long has CCC taken to develop? How large was(is) the team of programmers?


[Andrew Dodd] The initial idea of the CATALYST Control Center was conceived a couple years ago, and we've been working on it full earnest for about a year. The CATALYST Control Center team is composed of about 10 developers. Various members from within the driver team were also involved as driver changes had to be made as well.



Whats the one feature thats missing currently that you would have liked to see in CCC?


[Andrew Dodd] I would have really liked to have Automatic Updates in the first release. With Automatic updates, the end user is always guaranteed that they have the last and greatest CATALYST installed - our software team works extremely hard to continuously enhance the CATALYST suite, and we'd like as many people as possible to benefit from all their hard work.



What do you feel is the most important aspect/feature of CCC?


[Andrew Dodd] I think the redesign of the user-interface is one of the most important features of the CATALYST Control Center. We really wanted to make using and configuring your ATI graphics accelerator a simple and easy experience.



Why make CCC optional?

[Andrew Dodd] As with all new products it takes a little bit of time to adjust, so for the first few months we're going to let users download the control panel as well. But it is important to note that ATI is definitely focusing our efforts on the CATALYST Control Center, and as you'll see with the next few releases, a number of very cool features will only be available in the CATALYST Control Center.



What do you feel are the long term benefits of moving to CCC?


[Andrew Dodd] The flexibility of the CATALYST Control Center architecture is definitely a huge benefit - that fact that the ATI community is going to be able to come up with their own designs and features for the CATALYST Control Center is going to incredible. As good as we think we are at coming up with new features, I know that people are going to come up with some absolutely amazing stuff that we'd never even think of!

There is the possibility of 3rd parties creating unique versions of CCC, is there anything that you'd like t see people try to create?

[Andrew Dodd] Anything and everything :-) I can't wait to see the cool stuff that people come up with.

CCC includes an improved VPU recover, what are the improvements that end users hopefully wont ever see?

[Andrew Dodd] - Actually the improvement to VPU Recover was delivered in the CATALYST 4.8 driver. Previous to the VPU Recover enhancement, there were many times where in the event of a hang VPU recover would have to switch to a software rendering mode (which would allow users to save critical data, but would require them to reboot to get back to hardware rendering mode). With the enhanced version of VPU Recover there is a much higher success rate (in the event of a hang) that we'll be able to stay in hardware rendering mode - hence making the recovery, in the unlikely event of a hang, a much more graceful experience.

Can you explain a little to our members the reasoning being using the .net framework with the new ACE driver set.

[Andrew Dodd] The Microsoft .NET Framework is extremely flexible that easily allows developers to write separate applications and plug-ins for the CATALYST Control Center using a number of different programming languages. In addition the .NET framework is the foundation for many of Microsoft’s current and future applications. And as such, enables us to provide an underlying technology that will easily migrate to next-generation operating systems and enjoy wide compatibility with commonly used applications. The reality is that once the .NET framework is installed it is transparent to the user. Many PC users today benefit from this enabling technology without even knowing they have it. With these factors in mind, .NET was the right choice to use for the design and continual enhancement of CATALYST Control Center.

Will there be any forthcoming performance increases with ACE, and how does it rate compared to the conventional ATI driver sets in regards to stability and performance.

[Andrew Dodd] The first release of the CATALYST Control Center is just the very beginning, we definitely plan on adding new features, improving performance, fixing issues, adding more wizards, etc. with each new release. Performance and Stability have and always will be our top priority for CATALYST, and the CATALYST Control Center is no exception.



Any messages for our readers?

[Andrew Dodd] I hope everyone has fun with the new CATALYST Control Center, and tries to come up with their own customizations. Also end-user feedback is extremely valuable to us so please send us your feedback and suggestions on how to make CATALYST Control Center an even better product.

Thanks to Andrew Dodd for taking the time to answer our questions over the last month.


 
Copyright ©2002-2004 DriverHeaven.net, All rights reserved.

DriverHeaven artwork by Zardon.
DH logo & Artwork may NOT be used without express permission of the Administration Team, protected under Copyright Law.