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Interview with Andrew Dodd - AMD Catalyst Software Product Manager


by Stuart Davidson - 10th Feb 2011
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Andrew Dodd


HI Andrew, thanks for your time today. Let's start by giving our readers a little bit of information on your role within AMD and what this job involves.
Andrew: My official title is Software Product Manager. I am the owner of the AMD Catalyst software suite (which means I manage/coordinate AMD Catalyst and hotfix releases and define the long term AMD Catalyst strategy). My day to day work involves defining software requirements for new features/projects, working closely with a number of software development teams, creating a variety of presentations/communications, and of course interacting with press.Smile
I guess that means, with Terry Makedon moving on to another role that you will be "the" public face of Catalyst. How do you intend on interacting with AMD users? Will it be through tools such as Twitter or do you have any other plans. As a side question... how do AMD gather feedback on Catalyst releases at the moment? If someone wants to get involved how do they?
Andrew: When we release a new AMD Catalyst we try our best to get the word out that it's available for download; we want our users to have the latest Catalyst installed on their systems. As far as insight into the community, yes my Twitter account has been set up (though I haven't officially tweeted as yet) to let people know the latest news surrounding AMD Catalyst; follow me @catalystcreator. As far as getting feedback on Catalyst releases - we definitely try to scan various forums to see if there are any trends. We also have a dedicated beta tester (Pete Grass) who works very diligently with me (scanning various forums, testing new titles, etc. and lets me know about any issues he comes across). The best thing users can do is to post detailed information about issues they have in the forums; if we see an issue pop up more than a few times we'll look into it; but the great thing about forums is that a lot of the time members can help other members resolve system specific issues.
Moving from the liaison with consumers to speaking to developers. How strong would you say the Catalyst team's relationship is with tier1 game production studios? Do you have direct dealings with them when games are in production, for example to fix bugs or enhance performance, or is that handled more by the developer relations team?
Andrew: The AMD Catalyst team does not interact directly with 3rd party developers - we've got an amazing ISV team who acts as our liaison with developers. They work very closely with companies from very early on in the development cycle to ensure everything works smoothly before the title is released. If an issue is found that needs a Catalyst update to resolve it, then of course I work closely with the team to get out a fix as soon as possible for our customers (a hotfix release is often the quickest solution; with the official Catalyst release getting the fix a little later).
Looking specifically at the Catalyst drivers, there have clearly been a number of large changes to them recently with the most obvious being the release of Catalyst Control Centre 2. Tell us a little about how the new interface was developed? Did you guys feel it was time to change or was customer feedback instrumental in kicking off the project? As it progressed did you hit any significant hurdles and are you happy with the end result or will we see more refinements in the near future?
Andrew: It was a combination of things that made us want to overhaul the user interface of the Catalyst Control Center. We knew based on user feedback that there were things we could definitely improve upon; we also thought it would be great to align the new user interface for the introduction of AMD's new set of APUs and for the first AMD Catalyst release in 2011. We take usability very seriously, and worked with a UI design firm (Infusion) to make sure we had a good design; a key part of the process was conducting many usability studies to ensure we were on the right track. The process went by smoothly with no hiccups.

As far as future enhancements - we have a plan. In the spring you'll see an updated user interface with greatly enhanced Display Management controls (this came up again and again during the usability studies as a tricky scenario to setup) for simple two display configurations all the way to an Eyefinity setup with 6 displays - Overall we've tried to make the process of configuring your display setup much easier.

We'll also be introducing a new AMD Catalyst update notification feature for users. This feature notifies them when a new AMD Catalyst release is available, and lets them download and install with just a couple of mouse clicks. It's important that our customers always have the latest AMD Catalyst installed (since it gives them the latest performance improvements, new features, and fixes). Over the long term, we want to go through the user interface design of every single page of the Catalyst Control Center and make improvements as necessary to ensure it's easy to use.
Another recent addition to the drivers/CCC is the inclusion of Tessellation settings which are designed to enhance performance without reducing image quality. For our readers who don't know about this feature can you give them an overview of what the setting does and why they should consider using it?
Andrew: The main purpose of the new Tessellation slider is to give our users total control over the Tessellation levels used in an application. There are three main controls or settings:
  • The default selection "AMD Optimized" setting is intended to set the best level of Tessellation on a per application basis.  The "AMD Optimized" setting is designed to help users get the maximum visual benefit of Tessellation, while minimizing the performance impact associated with enabling Tessellation. Currently no applications have been profiled. With this setting, we're aiming to deliver the best out-of-the-box experience for our users. For example, if a game uses tessellation, but sets the level to 64 - it really doesn't look any different than say level 16; but the performance impact of setting tessellation to 64 will be quite substantial; so in those instances we want to make sure the majority of our customers get a good experience when playing that game. The key thing is that with the other two options (described below), users can override this setting to see for themselves that there really isn't a perceavable image quality difference, just a huge performance hit.
  • The "Use Application Settings" option gives applications full control over the Tessellation level.
  • Users can also manually set the maximum tessellation level used by applications with the slider control. Essentially, we're giving our Radeon customers more control.
Now a few questions from our readers... Forum member "Judas" writes "When will we have total control over the methods used to draw or split the graphics load over 2 or more video cards (crossfire), be it scissor, tile, split screen (vert/horizontal) or other alternatives such as triangular/pyramidal? This is a feature talked about several years ago, but thus far it hasn't appeared at all, apart from the suggestion of cranking catalyst AI to maximum (which isn't ideal)."
Andrew: Based on the research that we've done with different CrossFire methods - nothing really beats AFR (alternate frame rendering); it really offers the best scaling for our CrossFire users. Currently there are no plans to implement these methods for our customers. That being said we're always looking to further enhance the CrossFire experience, so if we come across any cases where it really makes sense to provide access to more options we'll definitely give it to our users.
Forum member "Asedsa" asks "is there any chance to develop AMD fusion media explorer for AMD GPU users regardless which CPU you have, Intel or AMD?" And they would also like to see a field within AVIVO converter where the user can set custom resolutions for conversions. Any comments on these?
Andrew: At this point in time we do not have any plans to expand the supported platforms for AMD fusion media explorer. As far as the AMD video converter; we highly recommend using an AMD GPU accelerated 3rd party application for converting video. The AVIVO converter is now quite out-dated, and AMD has no plans for further development on it.
"Synthesis204" would like to know if there are any concrete plans to focus on the stereoscopic 3D drivers. For example, do AMD intend to push more resource to the 3rd party developers to assist in producing more frequent releases with support for more titles or features?
Andrew: AMD's plan is to continue working with 3rd party developers such as DDD and IZ3D to supply the middleware required for Stereo3D support. We work very closely with these developers to ensure they have all the required assistance needed to create their software.
Carrying on from that, do you ever see a situation where the development would be better performed "in-house", maybe bringing the 3rd party developers together to work with the Catalyst staff under one team?
Andrew: As mentioned above - we're going to keep supporting Stereo3D through other 3rd party developers; They have the expertise in that area so I don't think it would be a good use of AMD resources to try and recreate what they've already done.
A final question from our readers. "Matth" asks whether you feel that a commitment to monthly releases is still appropriate given the frequency of hotfixes in recent times. They also ask whether you still feel WHQL releases are important, given that the certification process can delay the release of drivers to the public.
Andrew: Monthly WHQL releases of AMD Catalyst are here to stay. We may have hotfix drivers released in between - (which are really targetted at the enthusiast community); but the monthly Microsoft certified Catalyst releases ensures that we're delevering a fully qualified software release which have also passed Microsoft's level of standards as well. Passing Microsoft's level of standard is an important benchmark in driver stability; not just from a gaming perspective but from an overall system/graphics perspective. Last year, an independent 3rd party conducted a number of driver stability runs using the Microsoft DCT WHQL test kit. The results (Testing under extreme conditions, AMD passed each of the rigorous tests 100% of the time) clearly demonstrate AMD's graphics stability leadership.

As far the monthly updates - I really think there is a lot of value in each release - we always deliver new features, new performance improvements, and driver fixes, and we want to make sure our customers have access to all of these benefits as quickly as possible.
Before we wrap up, we always like to finish by finding out a little bit about the systems you use at home. Are you a gamer or home theatre enthusiast? If so, what are the major components you use and why did you select them for your build?
Andrew: Well, with two very young children at home; it's actually pretty hard to find much time for gaming or watching movies. But my main system is a AMD Phenom II X6 with a couple of AMD Radeon HD 6870's in there - I've always been more into the gaming side than the home theater enthusiast side of things.
Thanks for your time today Andrew, is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Andrew: All of our AMD Radeon users have a lot to look forward to this year with AMD Catalyst - we've got a lot of cool features and performance enhancements planned so make sure you keep updated - you don't want to miss out! Thanks for giving me the opportunity, and I look forward to working with the Hardware Heaven team.
CatalystCreator - Twitter.com
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