Tweak Your Graphics Card for Gaming

AMD Graphics Control Panel

For an AMD ATI card, you bring up the AMD graphics control panel, known as the Catalyst Control Center, by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting Catalyst Control Center from the context menu. Fire up CCC for the first time, and you'll be prompted to choose between a 'basic' and 'advanced' control panel. The basic control panel is really too simple for your needs, so select the advanced one.

Next you'll see a fairly pedestrian-looking screen that appears to be mostly an ad. Welcome to the, er, welcome screen. This is a fairly useless screen, so uncheck Show this page on startup. Once that's done, you'll always return to the last page you viewed when you run CCC.

Catalyst Control Center offers a fairly rich array of controls, though not quite as many as nVidia's control panels do. It has no concept of individual game profiles, for example.

Instead, AMD offers Catalyst AI, which attempts to auto-optimize settings for known game titles. In fact, AMD does have game profiles embedded in its drivers, and will try to auto-optimize performance for individual games, though it won't override in-game settings.

Since you need to focus on 3D image quality and performance, select the Graphics drop-down on the upper left and click on 3D. You'll encounter a series of tabs that include mini-previews, both animated and still, of your settings changes.

Catalyst AI is most useful if you have a dual-GPU CrossFire setup, but it sometimes works poorly with newer games. For example, in Gearbox's game Borderlands, you'd see missing textures (gray or white boxes) with Catalyst AI enabled in the Catalyst 9.11 drivers. In general, the safest thing to do is turn off Catalyst AI.

The first 3D tweaking screen.

If you want to make some manual changes, first check the Use custom settings box. Then you can move to the other tabs to make changes to antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, and so on, all with slightly different and mildly useful animated previews. The antialiasing screen even allows you to pick a filter type--actually a sample pattern and depth--which will improve antialiasing quality at the expense of performance.

Generally, you can leave it on the default 'Box' filter, but feel free to experiment. Even if you leave the antialiasing level on 'Application Settings', you can still change the filter type.

The AMD antialiasing screen. Note that you can change sample patterns in the filter-type drop-down.

The AAMode tab is AMD's way of letting you alter antialiasing with transparent textures. The 'Performance' setting has little effect, while the maximum-quality 'Supersampling' setting produces the biggest performance hit.

AAMode is where you set transparency antialiasing.

If you don't care about the mini-previews, the simplest screen to navigate is the 'All' tab, which lists every setting in a single, scrollable window.

It's often easier just to make all your tweaks in the 'All' window.

Remember, it's generally better to use in-game settings to make the most of your image quality; use the graphics board maker's control panels only for settings that games don't have available within their options screens.

Next: Troubleshooting

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