AMD have just released their Crimson Relive driver to the public, and tout the driver to be one of the biggest steps forward in the companies driver history. Crimson Relive doesn’t just focus on the incremental creep of bug fixes and subtle performance enhancements synonymous with a later driver revision, but also promises a metric-ton of additional functionality, including a counter to Nvidia’s ShadowPlay software.
There’s always a tangible excitement with new graphic card architectures; their promise of allowing you to turn a once demanding and stuttery game into a silky smooth visual treat. But drivers don’t get quite the same level of attention (unless they’re buggy). Indeed, ask a PC gamer to explain what a graphics card does, and they’ll probably enthusiastically explain how it draws the game on the screen, and explain how their card does so with more Anti-Aliasing than their friend’s card is capable.
But drivers haven’t had this same level of attention in the past, and instead, we often grumble at needing to download the several hundred MB update. In the eyes of the public, AMD has traditionally fallen behind Nvidia over the years in the quality of their driver revisions. But fortunately for AMD, this perception is changing. The companies first revision of Crimson tweaked the GUI menu substantially, making it just as easy to tweak settings as their rival.
But Crimson ReLive takes things several steps further, including enabling custom resolutions, various bug fixes, improvements for overclocking and cooling and finally AMD’s ReLive itself. In a nutshell its AMD’s counter to Nvidia’s ShadowPlay; enabling gamer’s to stream directly to whichever service they choose, or selectively record footage onto their local PC at a plethora of custom quality settings, frame rates, and resolutions.
Crimson Relive Performance
We decided to test out the performance of AMD’s 16.12 update using the companies current flagship, the Radeon RX 480 graphics card. There were no overclocking shenanigans here, we simply ran the title with three different tests. The first is with the older 16.11 drivers, the second is with the Crimson Relive 16.12 drivers, and the final test was once again Relive, but this time recording footage to see the impact it would have on frame rates.
We also used a mixture of DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 titles which we felt is a good comparison between the two platforms. We also decided to focus on games specifically with built-in benchmarks, as manual runs between driver revisions likely wouldn’t highlight subtle differences in performance between driver revisions.
AMD claim that performance gains since the Radeon RX 480 have launched has increased by between 4 – 8 percent thanks to subsequent driver revisions. We can certainly vouch for certain titles improving performance since the cards original release (which isn’t unusual for a new architecture), but does Crimson Relive bring any tangible benefits to the table too?
We did perform some testing of Doom, at both 1440P and 4K – and the game is certainly playable (with 1440P comfortably sailing over 60FPS) but due to the title not having a built in benchmark, we didn’t feel comfortable enough to run it across driver revisions.
Gears of War 4
Easily one of the most anticipated games this year, Gears of War 4 was designed from the ground up around DirectX 12 and thus is a Windows 10 exclusive. Fortunately, the title is extremely customizable on the PC, with enough graphics options to please virtually everyone.
We ran GOW4 with everything on Ultra, disabling Dynamic Resolution Scaling and with an FOV of 100 – and naturally with the frame rate set as ‘unlimited’. We tested the game at both the 1080P and 1440P settings, with the latter being about the most you’d probably want to push the RX 480 to unless you were willing to compromise some of the other graphical options.
As you can see, Relive slightly bumps up the frame rates in both 1440P and 1080P resolutions, but when recording the performance difference essentially evaporates. Recording at 1440P also did produce a little hitching in the frame rate. When playing the game at 1440P, but recording the game at 1080P though, this isn’t the case.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Another one of the more popular games in recent memories, Rise of the Tomb Raider was a fantastic game on the Xbox One, but the PC version is considerably more beautiful. We’re playing the Steam release of the game. We decided to set everything at max but kept the game at 1080P due to the game falling below 60FPS after this resolution. It’s certainly possible to get 60FPS at 1440P if you wished to turn down a few of the visual effects, but we wanted to keep our testing practices similar throughout the review.
A similar pattern emerges in Rise of the Tomb Raider as with Gears, with the Relive driver noticeably improving frame rates.
Batman Arkham Knight
Batman Arkham Knight was released to critical acclaim on a console, but with muted fanfare on the PC. Poor optimization didn’t help, though users with 6 – 8GB of Video RAM were less impacted by the stutter plaguing many users. Still, multiple performance patches later, and Arkham Knight is not just playable, it’s one of the best titles I’ve played in recent memory on the PC. For these tests, everything was maxed out in-game, with the obvious exception of the two Nvidia GPU exclusive graphical effects.
Crimson Relive does help Batman, but only by a few frames at 1080P and 1FPS at 1440P. Still, it’s free performance so we’re not going to complain. It does reinforce that AMD has made improvements in their drivers across the board – including DX11 focused rendering paths.
Ashes of the Singularity
One of the earliest DirectX 12 benchmarks we had available, Ashes of the Singularity is a strategy title with grand designs of being able to control thousands of units across huge expanses of terrain. There’s little to explain about our benchmarks, other than everything was set to the highest quality, but with MSAA disabled.
A slight advantage again for Relive, but interestingly the difference is slightly larger with 1440P, though the ‘difference’ between the improvement at 1440 and 1080 are within the margin of error.
Metro Last Light
Metro: Last Light isn’t the redux version of the title, but instead the original release. The original title was notoriously hard on systems at its release but does feature a robust benchmark. The thought here is that AMD likely wouldn’t optimize such an old title specifically, so it will be curious how the driver handles a more legacy game.
Well, that showed me I guess. Once again, the performance difference is subtle – but it does appear that the GPU does enjoy a slight advantage with Crimson Relive.
Middle-Earth Shadow of Mordor
Another title which doesn’t get quite the credit it deserves. Shadow of Mordor is an excellent title for fans of Assassin’s Creed and Lord of the Rings lore alike. For this benchmark, we decided to plonk everything to the highest settings and use two massively different resolutions, 1080P, and 4K.
Interesting results I’m sure you’ll agree. 4K is 4x the number of pixels of 1080P, and despite this, the driver update showed a definite improvement across both resolutions. While .5 FPS doesn’t seem much, at 4K it does show that AMD has improved the rendering efficiency (at least a little) of their driver. In more CPU bound DX11 scenarios, it would once again appear that AMD has tweaked things.
Crimson Relive – The Answer to ShadowPlay?
While the original Crimson update, AMD gave their driver interface a pretty huge overhaul. The GUI now looked friendlier and easier to use compared to the older 15.x revisions of Catalyst. AMD also introduced WattMan, which was the companies bundled overclocking software. There were a few distinct areas that the drivers fell behind Nvidia though – the first of these were Nvidia’s ShadowPlay technology.
Capturing gameplay is growing ever popular – even if you’re not a budding YouTuber, it can be especially handy in competitive Counter-Strike matches to analyze team strategies, or used to prove unfair play or bad behavior from another play (for instance). Those who’ve been PC gamers for a number of years will have likely heard of FRAPS, which captures footage with very little compression directly onto the hard drive.
FRAPS file sizes are huge (good luck recording above 1440P unless you opt to record in half the resolution) and also doesn’t support DX12 yet. While FRAPS does have competitors (such as Bandicam and DXTory), ShadowPlay is free and simple but has required a Nvidia GPU.
To simplify with ShadowPlay does, it captures a drawn frame and then the encodes it using a dedicated GPU hardware accelerated H.264 video encoder and saves this file to the local hard drive.
AMD ReLive works very similarly, and offloads most of the capture duty to the video encoder, saving you precious CPU cycles.
Essentially Relive has three distinct modes – Manual recording, live streaming, and replay mode. You select the resolution you wish to capture the footage in, quality settings, frame rates and so on. You can also use hotkeys to bring up menus (a video overlay) to tweak the settings on the fly (so you don’t need to Alt+Tab). It’s worth noting that Crimson Relive is fully Windows 10 and DirectX 12 game compatible, so yes, you can certainly record using Crimson Relive on Gears of War 4 without any trouble at all.
The quality of the recorded footage is about as good as you can expect – but obvious is highly variable based upon your rig and drive you’re recording too. Slower mechanical based drives might force you to opt for lower bit rates even if the rest of your machine is beastly because of the sheer amount of data pummeling your drive. With a fairly decent modern HDD or SSD (especially with a good buffer size) you’ll likely have few to no issues unless 4K at full quality is something you insist on.
Pressing Alt+Z (default command) will bring up the initial menu, allowing you to go to Options, Record, Stream and finally Capture a screenshot. You can also leverage shortcuts to those functions if you desire. Under settings, you can choose the position of the indicator, the menu, record desktop and finally replay mode. Unfortunately, you’re unable to adjust quality settings on the fly, but that’s of little concern to most folks.
Other changes for Crimson Relive
AMD’s WattMan has also seen a few tweaks, not least of all support for the older generation of GCN cards, including the 300 and 200 series. For overclocker’s who’ve already dialed in their exact settings in MSI afterburner (or whatever third party you feel comfortable with), this probably won’t interest you too much, but AMD’s continuing support for older, legacy hardware is certainly appreciated.
The company is also pushing Radeon Chill technology, which has the two-fold effect of reducing the heat of the GPU and also latency by having fewer frames in the queue. This is something we’ll test more in the future, but our early testing of heat from the RX 480 we have looks positive thus far – but we wish to test with a wider suite of games and with overclocking thrown into the mix, something we just don’t have time to do as we’re approaching the Christmas run.
Next, there is the ability to create custom display resolutions for your device, a welcome addition to be sure. For some time, AMD has included the ability to use ‘DownSampling’, which the company dub ‘Virtual Super Resolution’. A handy option in older, less demanding titles to make the games look crisper than ever. But with the ability to now create custom resolutions… well, the sky is the limit really.
The lack of support for custom resolutions in the past (well, official support) has been certainly a black mark against AMD’s driver sets, so this is a huge step in the right direction and frankly I applaud the companies efforts in putting this in. It likely won’t impact a great number of gamer’s, but for folks looking for the absolute best image quality, the possibilities here are tantalizing.
Overall, there’s very little bad I have to say for AMD’s Relive update, it’s a huge stride forward for AMD’s already decent drivers. There are certainly areas Nvidia are ahead of AMD (such as the Ansel technology, which is just launching really), but right now AMD is shoring up their basics. They’re focused on the ‘stuff and features’ which the majority of gamers will want to use at some point or another.
Want to overclock your GPU, want to take screenshots or record a video of you whooping ass in CoD, or just tweak the resolutions and refresh rate of your display? Well, AMD has you covered.