Review of AMD Radeon Settings – Crimson: Continued Improvement by AMD

By Published November 24, 2015 at 8:00 am
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Software doesn't normally warrant a standalone review on this site; we'll review the hardware and, as an accompaniment, talk about the software's ability to adequately enable that hardware. AMD's newest “Radeon Settings – Crimson Edition” (introduced here) supersedes its long-standing Catalyst Control Center, which has been retired from service. Radeon Settings, which we'll interchangeably refer to as “Crimson,” is a complete overhaul of the AMD control interface. This, we think, warrants more of an in-depth tear-down than a simple news post.

There shouldn't be major performance updates included in the preview package we were provided; at least, not any more than what we've found in 15.11.1 benchmarking. This is largely an interface improvement, moving to a minimalistic UI – the trend of late – and attempting to improve ease-of-use for anyone with AMD Radeon hardware.

Here's the shortlist of major changes:

  • AMD now targeting 6 WHQL driver updates per year, a big move forward from the company's six-month silence from 2H14 to 1H15.
  • Targeting day-one game driver support with greater consistency than in the past.
  • “10x faster startup” when compared to CCC 15.7.1 (this is an AMD statistic).
  • According to AMD, 100% more automated test cases, 25% more manual test cases, and 15% more system configurations have been added for Radeon Settings over Catalyst Omega.
  • Per-game profiling of overclocking, a feature we spent time discussing in our previous news write-up.
  • Global application of game settings, without requirement of AMD Gaming Evolved (Raptr). Raptr's software is required for per-game settings profiling.
  • “Up to 3x faster” display initialization (AMD statistic, not validated independently) with Radeon Settings over CCC. Particularly applicable to multi-display configs.
  • Significantly faster, one-click support for Eyefinity.
  • Native inclusion of AMD Clean Uninstall utility which, mercifully, will now completely wipe AMD registry entries and files from the system. We use other driver blaster tools to wipe the slate for test. AMD's own driver cleaner will be useful for testing environments and for user device changes. You'd ideally run this before changing your GPU (even within AMD families) and reinstalling the drivers.

Crimson Does Not Improve Gaming Performance Over 15.11.1

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Quick note: There's a good chance that, looking through our own screenshots or reading other articles, you'll see AMD's claims that Crimson introduces “up to 20% more [gaming] performance” over its previous driver set. This is something that both nVidia and AMD have done in the past. The promised performance gain, accompanied by an asterisk, is over AMD's 15.7.1 Catalyst drivers. Any user who has kept up-to-date on beta drivers – and anyone playing the latest games should likely be on 15.11.1 beta – will not see this 20% performance gain, as Radeon Settings is bundled with 15.11.1. We've already tested 15.11.1 with all of the newest games.

We strongly disagree with the way AMD (and, in past press decks, nVidia) is presenting its gaming performance gains, using a fine-print-style notation of applicability only to older drivers.

This cleared, AMD has actually improved overall performance of its software suite with Crimson's unveil.

Naming Scheme & Sub-Versioning

Copied from our previous article:

AMD's naming scheme does feel a little bit greedy – like everyone at the round-table liked all the names so much, they decided to include all of them. Let's break-down the naming structure to reduce confusion:

Radeon Settings – Crimson Edition – 15.11

“Radeon Settings” is the name of the suite. This replaces Catalyst Control Center and will be used to refer to AMD's software going forward. “Crimson Edition” is the major version, iterated annually, from what we're told. 15.11, in this case, is the year.month minor versioning (2015, November). Not so bad once that's laid-out.

Usability & User Experience

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Usability, from the assumed perspective of a novice system builder, has vastly improved over CCC's overwhelmingly nested list of advanced options. Radeon Settings moves everything into a wide interface using the omnipresent semi-transparent, all-boxes, white-space design that has consumed today's software and websites. There's nothing inherently wrong with that; we think the software suite looks vastly superior to its championed sibling.

Navigation is straight-forward, more or less, and settings management is fairly easy. Our biggest criticism is AMD's lack of explanatory text for game settings, but this is something we've taken on with our own optimization guides and dictionaries. AMD could improve its software value-add by providing short help text for each setting presented to the user (like morphological filtering), similar to what's found in UEFI settings tabs.

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Per-game overclocking is a feature that feels immediately useful, limited primarily by AMD's small OC overhead on its recent cards. We generally advise against heavy overclocks for anyone hoping to keep their card in operation for the long-haul, but for games where you're a few frames shy of “ideal FPS,” an OC can help. Per-game overclocking ensures that the OC isn't active when unnecessary and keeps it contained within the more abusive titles.

As for Eyefinity, the tab has been distilled into a “quick setup” button (though more advanced approaches are available), which includes intelligent detection and organization of displays. AMD boasts significantly faster detection and setup times for multi-monitor configurations, but we have not independently validated said claims at this time.

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Software Performance – Install Size, Boot Time, Memory & CPU Consumption

This testing is all fairly “clinical” – it's observational over the period of exploration and use, and wasn't necessarily conducted with a heavy focus on methodological test design. We used our X99 bench with a 5930K, (temporarily) 8GB of DDR4-2133, and an R9 390X installed, with Windows hosted on a Savage SSD.

From quick glances, we have yet to see Radeon Settings exceed ~3% of CPU consumption (it tends to stay around 1%), contributing to the software's overall unbloated feeling. Memory consumption never exceeded 181MB as we clicked through everything, though we didn't test long enough to determine if any leaks or other anomalies are present. Consumption isn't bad, at 1/5 of a modern Chrome tab.

Install size is likely inflated for simplified distribution to the press, though we will be revisiting this as AMD rolls-out its official, public software. Our install package includes support for all versions of Windows and all modern AMD cards, landing it at a fairly large 1.1GB unpacked. Comparatively, 15.11.1 runs 478.6MB for the Windows 10-64 version. Fairly inconsequential once installed, granted, but unpacking does take about two minutes.

Once unpacked, the install process itself took around 86 seconds. AMD claims an install time of 64 seconds on a 6700K, with 15.7.1 requiring a reported 88 seconds. Upon looking into this clear disparity in results, we've boiled it down to the AMD Gaming Evolved software. Removing Gaming Evolved from our install list reduces install time by about 15 seconds, loosely measured, and makes the Raptr kit the obvious culprit.

Speaking personally of Gaming Evolved, I've been fairly vocal in my discontent with the bundled Raptr software. I've called it bloated and poorly performant, two accusations I stand by even as AMD pushes forward with Radeon Settings. At this time, Raptr's software is AMD's only means to natively offer a competing solution to nVidia's ShadowPlay (through GVR, which we benchmarked). It is also AMD's only way to allow per-game settings tuning through software; without the Raptr utility, only global configuration options are available (though you can still tune in-game, which really is what I prefer, anyway).

That's all fairly subjective, aside from the objectively poor performance and lack of 4K optimization, and can be ignored if you disagree with my position on the topic of Gaming Evolved. I hope to see AMD consume Raptr's functionality into its significantly faster, more impressive Radeon Settings suite in the future.

Conclusion: After A Year of Knocking AMD's Software, We're Happy with Crimson

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Following the trend of AMD GPU reviews on this site is a little entertaining – you can see a clear dip, then upswing in tone when discussing drivers and software. The R9 380 and R9 390 we condemned to inadequacy following flickering and driver instability (something that has since been resolved); the Fury X, at time of review, was hamstrung by AMD's poor driver optimization; the R9 390X, reviewed in August, we reported as being supported by critically improved drivers; the R9 380X, reviewed last week, we felt confident in recommending.

The point is that, clearly, our analysis of AMD's driver and software support has generally trended upward since June. Radeon Settings – or Radeon Software, or Crimson, or whatever the internet ultimately decides to call it – is vastly improved for its usability over AMD's previous software suite. Everything hasn't moved over yet, but it's on the way; there is a “more settings” tab that revives the old CCC interface for separate items.

More advanced users may not see the usefulness of moving to Radeon Settings insofar as usability and navigation – that's the fun of being an “advanced user” – but the launch time (<1s) is a marked advantage.

We hope to see AMD continue to take its drivers seriously and will closely monitor the company's ability to deliver its hopeful 6 WHQL drivers per year. This is AMD's opportunity to improve perception of its drivers and software, and they're off to a strong start.

- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.

Last modified on November 25, 2015 at 8:00 am
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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