The last time that we took an in-depth look at a driver set, it was the Catalyst series on a Radeon 9700 Pro, in which we saw just how much or how little had changed over the two-and-a-half-year lifespan of the card. Overall, we found that ATI’s breakaway hit of a video card changed very little once it was out of its youth, but where ATI did put its biggest investments in improving performance paid off very well, improving anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering performance in ways that now reflect their ubiquitous status these days.

However, while we had a good handle on the 9700 Pro and its R3xx lineage, we couldn’t help but wonder about the R420, the successor and very much the offspring of the R300 design. Built even more for shader power and based on an already strong design, could the R420 tell us something the R300 couldn’t? How did ATI handle the R420’s drivers in the face of real competition with NVIDIA’s 6000 series, versus the landslide over the 5000 series? To answer these questions and more, we’re back today once again putting the Catalyst drivers to the test, this time with the R420-based X800 Pro.

While this series of investigations is very much organic in nature and continuing to grow and change to fit the needs of the readers, we have made several modifications based on user feedback from our first effort. For our look at the R420 and the forthcoming NV40, using more modern video cards has allowed us to also use more modern games, something many of you requested. We still can’t use the newest games because of the slim number of drivers that fully support them, but with this selection, we’ve tried to reach a better balance on the number of modern games versus the need to use games old enough to span the entire life of the video card. As always, if you have any further suggestions to take into consideration for future video cards, we’d love to hear them in our comments section.

With that said, our overall objective in doing this has not changed. As a recap from our first article:

When the optimizations, the tweaks, the bug fixes, and the cheats are all said and done, just how much faster has all of this work made a product? Are these driver improvements really all that substantial all the time, or is much of this over-exuberance and distraction over only minor issues? Do we have any way of predicting what future drivers for new products will do?

Today, we’ll once again answer that and more on the R420.

R420 & The Test
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  • breethon - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    I never download the "FULL" package drivers from ATI. I always use the option "dial up - driver only"(the first of three options under the dial up links). I use atitool for any tweaking. I don't have the CCC (atleast I don't believe I do). Don't let the dial-up words trick you. I pull from just as fast as the broadband links. Hopefully this helps.
  • archcommus - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    I'll admit the CCC takes a long time to load and is bloated, but if you disable it from startup and don't mess with the settings much, it's really not that bad.
  • microAmp - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    If you search the Far Cry forums, there is a way to do a quick save, through the console, IIRC.
  • archcommus - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    Yes, I wouldn't even bother playing the game without doing that, don't care for repeating things endlessly.
  • wing0 - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    from all the comparison for 9700Pro, it seems to me that I should stick with my 5.7 cat?
  • Cybercat - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    I do see a change in the shadows under the dock. I don't know if you could say it's better or worse though.
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    That's actually fog. We couldn't get an exactly perfect screenshot because of the rolling fog(though we kept the scene because it does a good job showing everything), so there is a slight difference due to that. There are no differences however due to driver IQ changes.
  • tfranzese - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    But is the CCC the cause of the increased boot time or is it the .NET Framework in general? I've never given CCC any use personally, just want to be sure that the distinction was made when you took the measurements.
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    It was the CCC, the machine already had the .NET framework on it.
  • Scrogneugneu - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    Yeah, but is the slowdown caused by the CCC itself, or by the .NET components loading because there was a .NET application launched?

    I believe the Framework won't load itself until one application requires it. If the CCC happens to be that application, then there's not much ATI can do about it. However, if it isn't... then they should definitively take a look at that (I'd rater have a better CCC than a "half-a-fps" faster driver).

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