What the Radeon drivers are really capable of

Catalyst Control Center in detail

The Catalyst Control Center is the user interface for Ati's Radeon graphics cards drivers. PC Games Hardware takes a look at the control panel and its individual options.
Catalyst Control Center: Welcome
Catalyst Control Center: Welcome [Source: view picture gallery]
Every month the Ati development team releases a new driver package with up-to-date bug fixes, support for new games and many more features. But only a few users know what the drivers are actually capable of and which options are available in the menus. The drivers are named according to their date of release. Version 9.6 for example is the driver from the sixth month of the year 2009. Usually driver updates are recommendable, but in certain situations they can also cause problems.

Special cases are the AGP graphics cards, because contrary to previous announcements the X1950 has not been the last Radeon card for the Accelerated Graphics Port, which has actually been replaced by the PCI-Express. DirectX 10 compatible graphics cards for the AGP are the HD 2400, 2600, 3450, 3650, 3850, 4650 and 4670 - although the latter two are very rare and only offered b two manufacturers: Gigabyte (4650) and Powercolor (4670). In order to use the up-to-date graphics driver with AGP cards you need the additional Catalyst AGP Hotfixes. Currently those are available for the HD 2000 and 3000 series only. For HD 4000 which is not officially supported, you are reliant on the support of the board partners.

Catalyst Control Center
The Catalyst Control Center is, as the name indicates, the command center of the driver that gives you access to all options and features. You can launch the CCC via the Windows Start Menu or by clicking the right mouse button on your Windows Desktop and clicking on "Catalyst™ Control Center” in the context menu. When you launch the Catalyst Control Center we recommend that you activate the "Advanced” version because otherwise you won't have access to a lot of options.

In the left part of the CCC window you can see the navigation menu with the categories "Welcome”, "Information Center”, "Displays Manager”, "Display Options”, "Digital Panel”, "3D”, "Color”, "Avivo Video”, "VPU Recover” and "ATI Overdrive”. The items "Display Option” and "ATI Overdrive” depend on the configuration of your system and thus might differ from our example or are not available at all.

The "Information Center” lists detailed information about the hardware and an overview over the currently installed Catalyst driver. Under "Displays Manager” you can adjust options that usually can be accessed via Windows menus, too, like the management of multiple displays, the screen resolution or the refresh rate. The category "Digital Panel” is quite interesting: If your monitor supports the necessary protocols you can adjust settings that you would normally have to access via the display's integrated menu. One of the features offered in the "Attributes” subcategory is the Image Scaling which controls how the display deals with resolutions smaller than the one currently applied (like 1,680 x 1,050 for an 22 inch display). If you enable the GPU scaling the three available options are self-explanatory and you should chose the one suiting your requirements best. You can activate the checkbox "Reduce DVI frequency on high-resolution displays” if you don't use a 120 hertz monitor. The "Alternate DVI operational mode” is, depending on your monitor, activated or deactivated. You should only use this option if there is a problem with the displayed image.

Catalyst Control Center: Displays Properties
Catalyst Control Center: Displays Properties [Source: view picture gallery]
Another subcategory of "Digital Panel” is "HDTV Support” which could be interesting on a HTPC. But adjusting the available frequencies and resolutions by hand shouldn't be necessary very often, because the required information is stored in the EDID of the display and can be accessed by the graphics card. The "LCD Overdrive” is rarely useful. When playing video material this feature simulates a higher frame refresh rate by darkening individual pixels more than necessary. But modern displays might already have built-in overdrive circuits. Streaks are reduced, but the emergence of a unnatural grey veil is amplified.

In the "Avivo™ Video options you can find all settings related to the enhancement of displayed video material. There are preset profiles available, but you can also make your own adjustments. The "Theater Mode” subcategory is only listed if multiple displays are attached to your system. If the mode is active, you can run a video on full screen size on one display while continue working on the other monitor.

The "ATI Overdrive” is the integrated overclocking feature of the Catalyst driver. Here you can increase the clock speeds of GPU and video memory of your Radeon graphics card. But be careful: The settings are applied automatically when your system boots. If you make a mistake here the PC might not start correctly anymore.

The category "Powerplay2 only shows up under two conditions: You use an IGP and Windows Vista. If you have a dedicated graphics card or use Windows XP the option is not available.

3D Graphics Options
For gamers the most interesting category certainly is "3D”. Here you have access to options related to the visual quality of the displayed three-dimensional image (e.g. the data delivered by 3D game engines). In the following we introduce the associated subcategories and give picture examples for the individual settings.

Catalyst Control Center: 3D Standard Settings
Catalyst Control Center: 3D Standard Settings [Source: view picture gallery]

Anti Aliasing
Diagonal lines can only be displayed with aliasing. Anti Aliasing is a general term for technologies that can lower or even prevent this effect. Modern Radeon graphics cards can handle the modes 2x, 4x and 8x. The intensive 16x mode is only available for CrossfireX setups. Often games deliver their own Anti Aliasing settings. If this is the case use the option "Use application settings”.

Click to select Anti Aliasing Mode

Adaptive Anti Aliasing (AAA)
This is a kind of filtering that is necessary because normal Anti Aliasing processes have problems dealing with transparent textures as they are used for leaves on a tree r the pickets of a fence. If you activate Adaptive Anti Aliasing such transparent textures are smoothed, too, and the picture receives a noticeable quality benefit.

Click to select Adaptive Anti Aliasing Mode

Anisotropic Filtering
The distortion effect when projecting a three-dimensional environment onto a two-dimensional surface causes distant textures to flicker. To prevent this, the graphics driver blurs the flickering textures and makes them appear out of focus. The advantage of this method: The Depth of Field Blur that is occurring in reality is simulated - even if it is a little exaggerated.

Anisotropic Filtering prevents this with a special texture filtering algorithm and even far off textures are displayed sharp and don't flicker. The used algorithm is called "Footprint Assembly”.

Since Anisotropic Filtering doesn't cost a lot of performance on modern up-to-date graphics cards, we recommend that you always activate this feature. If you don't like the Depth of Field Blur, you can use a smaller filter like 4:1.

Click to select Anisotropic Filtering Mode

Catalyst A.I.
The "Catalyst Artificial Intelligence” stands for special optimizations for individual games. Those use certain settings to make the games run faster, in benchmarks for example, but lower the visual quality at the same time.

Mipmap Detail Level
Mipmapping is a special algorithm for edge smoothing and texture optimizing. Since this option has a significant effect on the visual quality, but is almost unnoticeable in matters of performance costs, we recommend the highest possible setting.

Standard Settings
The so-called Standard Settings offer five profiles that set predefined combinations of settings for Anti Aliasing (up to 4x), Anisotropic Filtering (up to 16x), Catalyst A.I., Mipmap Detail Level and Vertical Refresh. In the chart below you can see the individual settings.

Author: Kristoffer Keipp (Jul 17, 2009)

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