AMD’s polishing up software support for its new Fury X and Radeon R300 series graphics cards with the release of new WHQL-certified Catalyst 15.7 drivers. This sweeping update plays nicely with Windows 10, adds the clamored-for (and oft-delayed) CrossFire multi-GPU support for FreeSync monitors, and extends some of AMD’s formerly exclusive features (like frame rate target control) to the full range of older Radeon R200 series graphics cards.
The Windows 10 support is no surprise, given that Microsoft’s next-gen operating system launches in roughly two weeks. Nvidia also recently pushed out Windows 10-compatible WHQL-certified drivers for its GeForce graphics cards. DirectX 12 cometh! But beyond that, Catalyst 15.7’s new offerings should have Radeon gamers shouting “Hallelujah!” from the rooftops.
The story behind the story: AMD is often criticized for failing to release new WHQL-certified drivers at the same blistering pace as Nvidia. That said, the abundance of new goodies enabled in Catalyst 15.7 proves that AMD can stay feature-competitive with the GeForce gang, even if those features are released at a slightly slower pace—and they’re sure to bring a smile to the faces of Radeon gamers everywhere.
What’s new in AMD’s Catalyst 15.7 drivers
The first of many improvements in the drivers is FreeSync support for CrossFire setups. AMD’s FreeSync (and Nvidia’s competing G-Sync) force your monitor and your graphics card to synchronize their refresh rates—hence the name—to provide a silky-smooth gaming experience free of screen-tearing and stuttering. Simply put, they rock.
The first FreeSync monitors rolled out in March, but without support for multi-GPU CrossFire setups. That was kind of a bummer: FreeSync rocks, but buying a FreeSync-compatible monitor essentially locks you into using Radeon-brand graphics cards for five to ten years. That makes it most appealing to AMD’s Team Red diehards—a.k.a., the very people most likely to be running a multi-GPU CrossFire setup. AMD had to cancel its initial plans to release CrossFire FreeSync support in April, stating “it’s now clear to us that support for AMD FreeSync monitors on a multi-GPU system is not quite ready for release”—but now it is. Hallelujah! (AMD dual-GPU configurations that pair an APU with a single discrete graphics card aren't supported, however.)
More importantly for gamers with more modest setups, Catalyst 15.7 extends support for AMD’s nifty Virtual Super Resolution and Frame Rate Target Control technologies to a wider range of older hardware.
Virtual Super Resolution debuted with AMD’s feature-stuffed Catalyst Omega drivers last December, but it worked only with a handful of high-end graphics cards (the R9 285, R9 290, R9 290X, and dual-GPU R9 295X2), ostensibly due to the need for internal hardware scalers. Well, somebody at AMD must have figured out some software trickery, because VSR is now supported on those GPUs, the full range of new Radeon R300 series graphics cards, and all Radeon R7 260 and above GPUs, along with all A-series 7400K and above desktop GPUs. (Hallelujah!)
Virtual Super Resolution forces your graphics card to render games at a higher resolution than your monitor natively supports, then downsamples the image to your display’s native resolution when it’s sent to your monitor. Doing so enables a far wider field of view in games and provides smoother edges on images—functioning kinda-sorta like anti-aliasing. Virtual resolutions up to a full 4K are supported, if your hardware and monitor both support it.
Frame Rate Target Control, on the other hand, appeared in the launch drivers for the Radeon R300 series graphics cards in June. This technology essentially lets you set a hard cap on your frame rates in games, which—as our extensive testing proved—can provide tangible, large benefits for both power and heat use when it’s enabled with titles that push a tremendous amount of frame anyway.
The fact that the feature was originally limited to new R300-series cards irked some Radeon faithful, as the GPUs at the heart of the new graphics cards are essentially retooled versions of the graphics processors that also powered the older R200 series. AMD’s setting things right now, however, by extending support for FRTC to all Radeon R7 260 and above GPUs—just like with VSR.