AMD's Radeon Software Crimson ReLive debuts with features galore

Highlights include impressive new rivals to Shadowplay and FRAPS.

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Bad cable warnings

Not all graphics card problems stem from bad GPUs—glitched visuals and black screens can be caused by on-the-fritz cables, too. Radeon Crimson ReLive adds a new display connectivity feature that detects when the HDMI cable you’re using is no good.

hdmi cables amd AMD

In order to help you troubleshoot the problem, the software will try stepping down through lower resolutions and refresh rates until you hit one that the cord can handle. Once that happens, Radeon Crimson ReLive will pop up and warn you that you need to use a different HDMI cable. Useful stuff!

You’ll also find some new advanced display settings included in the update.

FreeSync and WattMan improvements

Two of AMD’s flagship features gain small, but noteworthy upgrades in Radeon Crimson ReLive.

First up: FreeSync, the affordable Radeon rival to Nvidia’s G-Sync. While the star of the show remains FreeSync’s ability to eliminate stuttering and tearing for buttery-smooth gameplay, Crimson ReLive is adding support for windowed borderless full-screen mode in games. (Your wish has finally come true, r/amd.) Another new addition is gradual refresh-rate ramping over time for laptops, which aims to save power and make transitions between desktop and full-screen mode smoother on notebooks.

radeon wattman AMD

Radeon WattMan is expanding to many more AMD graphics cards.

AMD’s superb new Radeon WattMan overclocking tools, meanwhile, are expanding beyond the Radeon RX 400-series to many (but not all) Fury, Radeon R300-series, and Radeon R200-series graphics cards. Check out the graphic above for the full list of supported GPUs.

HDR support

hdr gaming AMD

HDR makes brights brighter and darks darker.

High-dynamic range monitors don’t even exist yet—only HDR TVs—but the HDR age is kicking off for Radeon users regardless. Radeon Crimson ReLive includes support for both Dolby Vision and HDR-10 so you can sidestep the pesky HDR standards war that’s a-brewing.

Upgrade Advisor

Here’s a new feature that’s both handy and a wee bit odd-feeling.

Radeon Settings includes individual profiles for all of your games in the gaming section, where you can tweak specific settings, activate game-specific overclocking, and more. That’s nothing new. What is new is the Upgrade Advisor, which compares your PC’s configuration against the specs recommended by the game’s developer. If your PC isn’t up to the task, Upgrade Advisor lets you know, or it tosses up a green checkmark if you’re ready to rock. Pretty cool, right?

radeon upgrade advisor AMD

But if your hardware isn’t up to snuff Upgrade Advisor will surface a link to an Amazon page where you can buy a better, beefier Radeon graphics card. It’s useful enough, I guess, but Amazon links for new graphics cards in your graphics card software just feels a bit pushy. On the bright side, Radeon Crimson ReLive isn’t locked behind mandatory registration like Nvidia’s GeForce Experience, so maybe Amazon links aren’t so bad.

One more caveat: Upgrade Advisor only works with Steam games at launch. Sorry Battlefield 1 fans.

The rest

As usual, the annual refresh includes numerous smaller updates as well.

  • The Radeon Software installer has been updated with a new look and the ability to force a clean install.
  • The Radeon XConnect feature for external graphics cards now supports Thunderbolt-certified laptops and all-in-ones.
  • Polaris-based graphics cards pick up VP9 decode acceleration.
  • A new user feedback section of Radeon Crimson ReLive gives you the ability to ask for new features and upvote which features you’d like to see added in future updates.
  • AMD’s Linux driver now works with FreeSync monitors and all graphics cards based on the Graphics Core Next architecture (Read: Radeon 7000-series and up).
  • Skype calls are handled more efficiently on APUs now. You may also find slight performance increases in some games, but nothing mind-blowing.
amd xconnect AMD

Radeon Crimson ReLive also embraces developers and pro users. We won’t dive into those details much, but developers will find new goodies in AMD’s LiquidVR and GPUOpen, including multi-resolution rendering and physics-based audio for virtual reality and an upgraded version of the TressFX technology that makes Lara Croft’s hair look so lustrous while she’s busy raiding tombs.

Users of the separate Radeon Pro driver, meanwhile, will find a handy "one driver for all" driver for virtualized desktops and virtualization servers (with no licensing fees) starting with January's enterprise update, enhanced game engine integration to help drive down development costs, consistent and regular updates on the fourth Thursday of every quarter (complete with prioritized support), a Radeon Pro hybrid Linux driver that combines the open-source core Linux Driver and AMD's proprietary Pro technologies, and more.

OCAT

Okay, I lied. One of those developer tools appeals to everyday gamers too, though it’s not really part of Radeon Crimson ReLive. AMD’s new Open Capture and Analysis Tool is a benchmarking tool like FRAPS or PresentMon; pressing a hotkey starts a log of your game’s performance, which continues until you press the key again or a pre-specified duration elapses.

amd ocat AMD

AMD’s new OCAT benchmarking tool.

But here’s the really nifty part: AMD’s OCAT works just fine with DirectX 12 and Vulkan games. Most popular benchmark tools, from FRAPS to MSI Afterburner, only work with DX11 games (which OCAT also supports). AMD’s been slowly building its CPUs and GPUs to take advantage of DX12 for years now, so it’s not shocking to see the company push out a tool that lets you measure the performance of next-gen graphics APIs—though it is a nice surprise.

OCAT was designed for simplicity. You can opt to record frame-rate data for only the game you’re testing (as with FRAPS) or every running process (as with PresentMon), and the application will save recording data to a spreadsheet file in the Documents/OCAT/Recordings folder. OCAT saves everything from average frame rate to handy granular details like average millisecond per frame and 99th percentile frame times, which can help you quantify a game’s smoothness. All in all, it’s not as graphically polished as some of the other benchmarking tools out there, but that lack of visual flair doesn’t take away from its utility.

Bottom line

For years, Radeon driver updates were few and far between, delivering game optimizations (and a fair share of bugs) long after the release of high-profile games. Those shoddy drivers dragged the Radeon name through the mud, and deservedly so.

No more.

AMD began efforts to right its ship by drastically increasing the amount of automated and manual testing for 2014’s Catalyst Omega. That helped, but new drivers still dripped out at a glacial pace. Yet after the formation of the Radeon Technologies Group last November, AMD promised to step up its software game—and it made good on its word in 2016. AMD delivered 29 total driver releases since Radeon Crimson’s debut last November, with eight carrying WHQL certification. AMD plans to continue the rapid pace, and has accelerated its testing endeavors yet again, performing 25 percent more testing on ReLive than the original Radeon Crimson release.

Rebuilding a reputation doesn’t happen overnight. AMD still has a way to go before gamers once again equate Radeon Software with consistent quality, despite the vastly improved experience of the year past. But AMD’s doing all the right things, and with Radeon Crimson ReLive the road ahead looks bright indeed.

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