AMD Radeon HD 7970 Launch Review

Product: AMD Radeon HD 7970 Video Card
Company: AMD
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: December 24th, 2011

API Feature Updates

A lot of new features and updates were introduced recently with preview and mainstream AMD Catalyst drivers. Eyefinity is now in revision two, supporting 5x1 portrait and landscape configurations (but not mixed) exceeding 8000 pixels on any axis, the limit is now 16,000 pixels (as of AMD Catalyst 11.10).

This is a software update that is applied to AMD Radeon HD 6000 series as well, but not the 5000 series (possibly due to DP1.1 vs 1.2 support). An update included in AMD Catalyst 11.12 extends AMD HD3D to now support Eyefinity configurations.

With AMD Catalyst 12.1, Eyefinity with AMD HD3D in a CrossfireX configuration becomes available. 12.1 preview also introduces new profile manager modes, detecting applications and allowing the user to pick the game profile and other basic options.

AMD Catalyst 12.2 promises to bring improvements to the preset manager and custom resolution support for Eyefinity, giving more non-native options to help tailor performance to gamers needs. You'll also be able to adjust taskbar placement for Eyefinity desktops, instead of spanning the entire desktop. All the updates should be transparent to middleware like TripleD and IZ3D, which are needed for non-native AMD HD3D title support.

After the AMD Southern Islands Tahiti tech day presentations, we had the opportunity to speak with Neal Robison, Director of ISV relations. From being at the 3DO company to being one of the designers of the Sega Dreamcast, Neal has had a lot of experience working with ISVs and helping them leverage the hardware they're targeting to get the best results.

Speaking with Neal, he was quick to own the problems gamers recently experienced with the launches of Battlefield 3, RAGE, Skyrim, Saint Row: The Third, etc. Acknowledging room for improvement, he outlined how AMD will deliver that in 2012 - through software, hardware, and support. In 2012 he will be sending out millions of dollars of AMD Radeon Southern Islands cards to developers and testers, both major studio and indie small teams, to get compatibility and feature support as well as performance working at their best on AMD hardware. Remote and on-site support for development and QA teams will be made available, and these areas expanded over the course of the year.

Speaking with other AMD engineering staff, writing driver profiles for games is sometimes akin to rewriting the game engine to run effectively on the hardware. From that point of view, AMD made Graphics Core Next easier to program, debug and monitor for the benefit of AMD's driver team as much as anyone else. This is a good thing, as it indicates a possibility that future driver updates can as effective or more so for less effort. This would mean more time to get premium features like CrossfireX, Eyefinity, HD3D working correctly, and more titles concurrently. AMD has learned a lot about about GCN for optimization of performance and stability - examples like the AMD FXAA implementation included in DICE's BF3 are slower on GCN than NVIDIA's optimized FXAA; a reversal from Cayman and Cypress. However, with AMD extending beyond DX11 spec for their new features in some areas, it seems remiss of them to lag on supporting DX11 multi-render target and command lists, even if they are 'optional' parts - without AMD's support, those options won't get much traction with developers.