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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  • lombric - Thursday, February 23, 2006 - link

    It may be interesting to see the evolution in cpu discharge under various video format and in image quality.

    I know that the introduction of AVIVO in recents drivers was very efficient for the X1xx serie but what about the R420? No chance to have similar results?
  • Egglick - Friday, February 24, 2006 - link

    As far as I know, the X1x00 cards are the only ones with AVIVO, or at least the entire feature set.

    So does that mean that a $80 X1300 has better video playback than a X850XT PE?? Yep.
  • pkw111 - Thursday, February 23, 2006 - link

    ... but their conclusion is rather boring. True it may be good solid research, but how about some studies that give colorful results, liek comparing the non-offical ATI drivers, such as WarCat, Omega, ngo, etc.
  • Egglick - Thursday, February 23, 2006 - link

    I think it's a little too early to make guesses about the R5xx series right now. Don't forget that both the X800Pro and the 9700Pro are R300 based, and what we're looking at is a cumulation of 3+ years of tweaking and optimizing. The R580 has been out for what, a month?

    We could still see very radical performance boosts for R5xx based cards, particularly the R580 with it's unique shader architecture. It's also possible that performance boosts in new games will be even larger once the successive driver has been optimized for it. Basically, it's a whole new architecture, and what may have been true for both of these R300 based cards may not be true at all for R5xx.

    Also, the CCC is garbage. Boo to ATI for forcing us to use it.
  • DieBoer - Thursday, February 23, 2006 - link

    I just wish ati would stop wasting time on optimising 3dmark and start with games. No serious gamer would take notice at all at 3dm scores only the average joe.
  • Spoelie - Thursday, February 23, 2006 - link

    The most horrifying thing about CCC is the horrendous memory usage. I had been using the normal control panel all this time but recently formatted and downloaded the latest drivers. WindowsXP's memory usage after bootup went from ~70 something (not much had been installed yet) to a full fledged 200mb!! Only from installing the f*cked up driver.

    After some tweaking (disabling all ATi's added services and the CCC entry in the registry's startup) I'm back at around ~95mb after startup, which I was at before the format.

    Still find it incredible in what kind of default configuration the CCC 'ships'.
  • Questar - Thursday, February 23, 2006 - link

    Your saw rhings that weren't there - XP's footprint is much larger than 70MB.
  • Spoelie - Friday, February 24, 2006 - link

    Not really, once you start tweaking and don't have all programs installed, around 70 is really not that much of a stretch without programs open. Even so, even if the task manager for some reason is lying about the absolute numbers, there was a difference of 130mb just by installing a driver.
  • abhaxus - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    i find it surprising that you did not run the test with a dual core CPU to see if the dual core optimizations actually did anything in the new drivers. i know there was a writeup on them awhile back with the 5.12s i believe but i'd like to see if newer versions got any further improvement.
  • SonicIce - Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - link

    You can create a short 300 frame timedemo for Farcry and play it back with the">Farcry bench tool in screenshot mode. This will give you perfectly consistant results. I did it once to compare the shadows on the weapon.

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