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.
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.
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.
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.
...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.
[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 :-)
[Andrew Dodd] Anything and everything :-) I can't wait to see the cool stuff that people come up with.
[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.
[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.
[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.
Thanks to Andrew Dodd for taking the time to answer our questions over the last month.