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Old 01-26-2009, 03:02 AM   #1
Rob Williams
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Default ATI's Graphics Card Drivers Need Serious Love

From our front-page news:
If there's one thing I realize well, it's that from time to time, people can run into a string of bad luck. The past few weeks have proved that fact to me, where computers are concerned at least, and I'm sure I'll divulge more into that at some point. As I mentioned earlier this month, we have some great content coming up, including our review of NVIDIA's GTX 285 and GTX 295, which should have been posted last week. I won't get into all of the reasons for the slow posting here, but I will just say that a) manually re-benchmarking a slew of graphics cards takes a while and b) things that can go wrong, sometimes do.

I'll pick on just one thing here though, because when I think back to all of this re-benchmarking I've been doing, there's been one problem to top them all... ATI's GPU drivers. Now, I try to keep an open mind when it comes to issues with hardware, and it's important to, to help avoid feeling biased. There's something about ATI cards that just works against me though, and that was well-evidenced over the course of the past few days.

As mentioned above, I'm in the process of re-benchmarking numerous cards since we are shifting our previous GPU testing machine to be based on the Core i7 platform. Well, I spent almost an entire week on NVIDIA cards, and so it the time was right to move over to ATI's cards, but problems ensued. Now, I'll preface this by saying that I've had many problems with ATI's drivers in the past, but that's not the problem. The problem is that I'm still running into these exact-same issues, and I can't for the life of me understand why.

To keep an already long story shorter, I'll say that the main issue that plagues ATI cards is the bug where installing the driver will do nothing. When I reviewed ATI's HD 4870 X2 last summer, the issue that crept up was a driver that never actually "stuck". At its worst, I had to re-install the driver four times before it would finally work. Most times, I'd install the driver, only to reboot and get an error about an appropriate card not being found. Frustrating, to say the least.


Since that time, I really haven't had any major issues, but I did have some slight ones when I sat down to benchmark Sapphire's HD 4850 X2. In that particular scenario, I installed both the 8.12 and 8.12 Hotfix drivers off of the official site, and neither worked. At least, not at first. After installing the hotfixed drivers for the second time, the card was operable.

This past weekend, I had similar troubles. After installing the HD 4870 X2, it took four driver installs (between 8.11 and the latest hotfixed driver) before the card worked, and on the HD 4850 X2 side, it took one re-install for it to function. At first, I thought it was just issues with dual-GPU cards, but I had the same issue with the 1GB HD 4870, where I had to re-install the driver once to have it function. To add to the pain, Mirror's Edge didn't bode well with any ATI card, and at first, I was stumped. The game would run, but at an obscenely-low average FPS (think 2). The problem? ATI's "Catalyst AI" was enabled (which is default). After I disabled it, the game ran fine.

Let me get one thing straight. I love ATI, and for the most part, I grew up on ATI cards. I loved seeing them strike back against NVIDIA last summer with their HD 4000 series... and who wouldn't? One decision that always bothered me though, was their needlessly bulky drivers, based on none other than .NET code. I'm not sure if the issues I ran into are related to that, but I'm sure it doesn't help. I'm assuming that I'm not the only one who's ever experienced these issues, because I've run into these on two completely different platforms with completely different GPU configurations.

I'll leave NVIDIA's drivers out of this, but while they are not perfect either, I haven't experienced a major issue like this since at least the Vista launch. ATI really, really has to get the driver situation sorted out, because as I said, there's no way I'm the only frustrated user. The Mirror's Edge bug really stumps me, because as it seems, anyone who picks up this game on an ATI card might run into an issue, and not too many regular consumers are going to know how to tackle it. So am I alone here? Let us know in the discussion thread.
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Old 01-26-2009, 05:28 AM   #2
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Quote:
To keep an already long story shorter, I'll say that the main issue that plagues ATI cards is the bug where installing the driver will do nothing. When I reviewed ATI's HD 4870 X2 last summer, the issue that crept up was a driver that never actually "stuck". At its worst, I had to re-install the driver four times before it would finally work. Most times, I'd install the driver, only to reboot and get an error about an appropriate card not being found.
Hm, well I guess my experience differs slightly as I never did get the error. I was installing a new set of NVIDIA drivers (On Vista 32bit), everything went smoothly and I rebooted. Desktop loads like normal and everything seems fine, but my Folding@home program is generating errors.

Since that could only mean an issue with CUDA I check the NVIDIA control panel just to discover it claimed it was running the original 17x driver that I had just believed to have replaced. I reran the new driver installer and it worked the 2nd time around... that has only occured once but I remember it for that reason.
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Old 01-26-2009, 08:13 AM   #3
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wow those drivers r like *dramatic pause* Cursed!!! or something.
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Old 01-26-2009, 10:39 AM   #4
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I personally have not had an issue with the 8.12 32-bit drivers from ATI but prior to this batch, I have had nothing but trouble dating back to the Radeon 9600 Pro days. I suppose I have been lucky but for a while, it was bad enough to make me swear off ATI cards from the 9800 XT on. With the 8.12 drivers, I have had a trouble free experience from the time of installation until now.
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Old 01-26-2009, 01:56 PM   #5
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I left out a fair amount of information due to the fact that this "simple" news post quickly became eight paragraphs, but I will add that I've been having issues with ATI drivers for quite a while, but most notably in the past year. The real issues began when I began testing ATI's HD 3870 X2... I had the exact-same issue where installing a driver might not do a thing, which again, is very frustrating.

One thing I will note, though, is that most of the time when this happens, it's with a dual-GPU card, not a single-GPU card (like the HD 4870), but as mentioned above, single-GPU cards aren't exempt from this happening either. What's frustrating is that when I mentioned issues to ATI before, they were shrugged off. But, I've been having this issue across numerous platforms and the problem still persists.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkSynergy
With the 8.12 drivers, I have had a trouble free experience from the time of installation until now.
Well, I know you have a copy of Mirror's Edge, but have you tested it out on your PC with the HD 4870? I'm wondering if that issue is just unique to me, but I'm starting to have my doubts. I've experienced the same issue on both the single and dual-GPU HD 4870, so I'm fairly confident you'd run into the same. The issue is simple... the game is unbelievably slow... single digit average FPS. Disabling Catalyst AI fixed things for me, and I tell you, that one aspect of the driver has caused a fair amount of issues for me in the past.

I just realized yet another issue, but this is exclusive to a dual-GPU card, it seems. During the level I use for Call of Duty: World at War (~ then 'devmap pel1b'), there is a large explosion (missile hits the tank), and at this point, the game will crawl down to the low double-digits (as you'll see in our review of the GTX cards posted later today). This did not happen on the HD 4870, but only on the X2 card, and it doesn't occur on any NVIDIA card I've tested.

In that case, I disabled Catalyst AI as well, and that fixed things, but get this. Doing that effectively turns the card into a single-GPU offering in that game (FPS perform on par with a single HD 4870), so you pretty-well want to go against doing that, since the card performs well elsewhere. I'm starting to think it's a memory issue though, because there were a few titles that wouldn't work with high AA with that particular card, so I dunno. I need to get a second HD 4870 X2 before I claim that, I think.
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Old 01-26-2009, 02:38 PM   #6
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ATi should hire some Nvidia Driver Coders to Code their Catalyst Drivers or something or stop using .Net like u mentioned.
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Old 01-26-2009, 02:51 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Williams View Post
Well, I know you have a copy of Mirror's Edge, but have you tested it out on your PC with the HD 4870? I'm wondering if that issue is just unique to me, but I'm starting to have my doubts. I've experienced the same issue on both the single and dual-GPU HD 4870, so I'm fairly confident you'd run into the same. The issue is simple... the game is unbelievably slow... single digit average FPS. Disabling Catalyst AI fixed things for me, and I tell you, that one aspect of the driver has caused a fair amount of issues for me in the past.
I will attempt to repro this issue tonight.
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Old 01-26-2009, 06:40 PM   #8
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If you have the graphic settings too high, yes your frame rates will suffer.
When I first loaded GRID, I thought my game was at the fault, but the settings where way too high, until I got the GTX 280, then I could scream through frames
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Old 01-26-2009, 08:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rob Williams View Post
In that case, I disabled Catalyst AI as well, and that fixed things, but get this. Doing that effectively turns the card into a single-GPU offering in that game (FPS perform on par with a single HD 4870), so you pretty-well want to go against doing that, since the card performs well elsewhere. I'm starting to think it's a memory issue though, because there were a few titles that wouldn't work with high AA with that particular card, so I dunno. I need to get a second HD 4870 X2 before I claim that, I think.
When you mention that, it sounds like an issue with Crossfire and nothing more. This is why I don't like dual-GPU solutions because every time a brand new game hits the shelves, it typically performs worse than a single GPU card until that company fixes their drivers for it. This game hasn't been on the market long enough for ATI to release a set of drivers that fix the issues in that game.

Quote:
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If you have the graphic settings too high, yes your frame rates will suffer.
When I first loaded GRID, I thought my game was at the fault, but the settings where way too high, until I got the GTX 280, then I could scream through frames
The settings "can't be too high", this is a 4870 X2 card that ordinarily will run circles around a single GTX 280.
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Old 01-26-2009, 09:18 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Merlin View Post
If you have the graphic settings too high, yes your frame rates will suffer.
When I first loaded GRID, I thought my game was at the fault, but the settings where way too high, until I got the GTX 280, then I could scream through frames
That isn't the issue here. Even just earlier, I loaded the game up with the HD 4850 X2, at 1680x1050, and like before, it was running at 2 FPS. Turn off Catalyst AI... boom, works fine. It's frustrating, and what's bad is that a regular consumer likely isn't going to know how to fix the issue (which in reality, is simple as heck, but you have to know where to look). They'll load the game up and assume it just doesn't work on their system.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kougar View Post
When you mention that, it sounds like an issue with Crossfire and nothing more.
Well, with Mirror's Edge, I had the issue with both the dual-GPU cards and the single-GPU HD 4870 1GB. With CoD: World at War, the issue likely is something to do with CrossFireX, since the game worked fine (from what I recall) with the HD 4870 1GB. I'll have to re-test when I'm able to find time to do so. I tested earlier with the HD 4850 X2, and the result is even worse than with the HD 4870 X2, haha. The slow-down is incredible... as in >1 FPS.

Not to give NVIDIA a nod, but I never had an issue with that game with SLI'd GTX 285's or a GTX 295 (or even Quad-SLI). I still stand by my thoughts that ATI's drivers need a serious revamp. I know NVIDIA's drivers aren't perfect either, but I've had so many issues with ATI cards in the past 1Y+... it's just too frustrating :-/

I e-mailed AMD a large e-mail explaining the entire gamut of issues, so I look forward to hearing back and seeing what I can figure out.
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