There’s a chill in the air, and the leaves are falling off the trees en masse. You know what that means: It’s time for AMD’s huge annual Radeon software update. Like 2014’s Catalyst Omega and 2015’s Radeon Software Crimson, this year’s refresh packs in some huge new features and extends some existing ones—like the superb Radeon WattMan overclocking tool—to more graphics cards.
This year’s iteration expands on Radeon Crimson to become Radeon Software Crimson ReLive Edition (whew, what a mouthful), named after its highlight ReLive feature. ReLive replaces the Raptr-powered AMD Gaming Evolved app that AMD unceremoniously dumped a few months back. It brings a bevy of video recording and streaming options right into AMD’s core software to challenge Nvidia’s popular Share (née Shadowplay) solution.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s all sorts of new gamer-centric tools, including FreeSync improvements, HDR support, and a feature designed to ratchet down Radeon temperatures and power usage when extra oomph isn’t needed. Separately, AMD’s releasing an easy-to-use benchmarking tool that logs in-game performance across DirectX 11, DX12, and even Vulkan games.
There’s a lot, is what I’m saying. Let’s dig in.
It only seems appropriate to start with ReLive. ReLive does everything you’d expect a utility like this to do: video recording, video streaming, instant replays, and screenshot captures.
Open the Radeon Settings tool and you’ll find a new ReLive tab in the navigation buttons across the top. Selecting it reveals a wealth of options, from simply enabling ReLive—it’s disabled by default—to setting hotkeys, assigning where your gameplay videos will be saved, and deciding whether to record just games or your PC’s desktop as well.
Here’s a picture of the ReLive overlay you can summon in-game:
From left to right, the icons are:
- ReLive settings
- Instant replay. Saves the last few minutes of your gameplay. You can configure how far back Instant Replay saves in the Radeon Settings tool’s ReLive options, along with granular features like the encoding type and frame rate for recordings.
- Record video. As with instant replay, the ReLive settings (pictured above) let you tweak the details, such as video and audio bitrates and the recording resolution. The video encoding options available to you depend on which graphics card you’re using. And yes, you can opt to record the desktop too. Huzzah!
- Stream to Twitch, YouTube, or other services. Again, you can tweak all sorts of options related to the output.
- Screenshot. Pretty self-explanatory!
Video capture utilities are great—unless they send your in-game frame rates plummeting, in which case they’re garbage. Fortunately, Radeon ReLive appears to fall into the former category. When AMD tested Overwatch, H1Z1 King of the Kill, Battlefield 1, and World of Warcraft—examples of games that are widely streamed—at punishing graphics levels on a system equipped with a Core i7-600K and Radeon RX 480, ReLive’s impact was a mere 3 to 4 percent loss. Always take manufacturer-supplied numbers with a pinch of salt, but that’s impressive.
Time will tell whether Radeon ReLive winds up being as popular as Nvidia’s vaunted ShadowPlay, but it’s certainly off on the right foot.
AMD’s new Polaris GPU architecture succeeded in driving the energy and heat levels of graphics cards way, way down in the Radeon RX 400-series versus their predecessors, but Nvidia’s new GeForce GTX 10-series graphics cards still hold the energy-efficiency crown. The new Radeon Chill feature in Crimson ReLive aims to cool down AMD’s hardware with an assist from software, sort of like a more effective version of AMD’s existing Frame Rate Target Control.
Radeon Chill—which, like the ReLive feature, is disabled by default and must be enabled in the WattMan section of the Radeon Settings app—aims to scale down your graphics card’s GPU usage rather than pump out unneeded extra frames. The feature tracks your computer’s input. When your mouse and keyboard go idle for a few seconds, Chill dynamically scales down the frame rate because the on-screen action is static. When you start moving again, the frame rate fluidly ramps back up. Meanwhile, Chill’s constantly working to avoid excessively high frame rates to reduce the load on your GPU.
AMD says that using Radeon Chill in World of Warcraft results in up to 31 percent power savings and a temperature decrease of up to 13 degrees Celsius, while fan noise is also notably decreased. Like Nvidia’s Fast Sync, the biggest benefits come in less-intensive games that routinely pump out frames far faster than a system’s monitor can display them—think e-sports titles—though you’ll also see a difference in traditional titles, too.
Radeon software head Terry Makedon says that in “blind taste tests” users don’t see any difference in performance when using Chill, because it was designed to ramp up and scale down frame rates quickly. And if you do see the transition, you can dive into the Radeon Settings profile for specific games and fine-tune how Chill behaves, manually tweaking the minimum and maximum frames per second.
AMD’s rolling out game support for Radeon Chill using a whitelisting method, which means the company approves specific games and creates profiles for them. Over time, AMD hopes it can move to a blacklisting method instead, Makedon says—disabling Radeon Chill only in games where it doesn’t function properly. DirectX 9, 10, and 11 games can be supported by Chill at launch.
Next page: New WattMan and FreeSync features, AMD’s FRAPS rival, and more
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.