AMD is taking the fight directly to Nvidia with the long-overdue launch of a new driver software package and UI. Called Radeon Software Crimson, the new software replaces the old AMD Catalyst Control Center (CCC) with a flat modern UI and simplified menus. Most importantly, AMD is promising that a new major version of the software will be released every year, with minor versions arriving every month. Each new major version will have a different, colour-themed name. The software is due to roll out later this year.
Crimson has been developed in QT, a cross-platform application framework that AMD says is much quicker than the old .NET framework CCC used to use. The company claims that start-up time has been reduced from eight seconds to 0.6 seconds on a mid-performance AMD E-350-based laptop; high-end desktops will be even faster. Crimson is the first in a number of software changes that AMD is implementing following the restructuring of its graphics group into the Radeon Technologies Group under the leadership of Raja Koduri.
For now, AMD is only talking about the UI changes in Crimson, which is dramatically different from the old CCC. (More will be revealed about underlying driver changes at a later date, but AMD was vague about when that might be.) The new flat design features five tabs at the top for Gaming, Video, Display, Eyefinity, and System, while the buttons at the bottom cover Updates, Preferences, and Notifications. In the middle, taking up the lion’s share of the window, there’s a carousel that displays announcements and promotions about games when not being used to display settings.
Crimson offers up much of the same settings as CCC, but it makes them easier to find. Under the Gaming tab you will find the new Game Manager, which allows you to tweak graphics settings globally or on a per-game basis. This includes anti-aliasing modes, tessellation modes, and frame rate target control (which sets a frame rate cap at the hardware level). There’s also the new option to enable Overdrive settings (overclocking) on a per-game basis. The Overdrive UI has been given a tweak, making it much easier to understand and use.
Recommended game settings are missing from the Game Manager; instead, they will continue to live in the separate Gaming Evolved Raptr application. “For this version we haven’t done the optimised recommended settings yet, but it’s on my roadmap,” AMD’s senior manager of software strategy Terry Makedon told Ars. “We have their expertise and we’re letting them run with it. At some point I would like to bring that functionality into Crimson somehow and find what the recommended settings are. The problem that I have with that app right now is that the recommended settings are based on crowd-sourcing, and that assumes that majority is always right, and that’s not always the case.”
Other Crimson features include a much simplified video tab for enabling and disabling AMD’s video filters; per-display settings for FreeSync and Virtual Super Resolution; and an Eyefinity setup wizard that will predict what’s plugged in where with one click. Finally, there’s a system information tab that shows CPU, memory, OS, and GPU stats.
While Crimson hasn’t yet been released, the initial screenshots look promising. The flatter UI with easier-to-find settings is a welcome change from the busy UI of CCC, and it even makes Nvidia’s Control Panel and GeForce Experience look dated by comparison. The UI is just one part of the equation, though. The under-the-bonnet changes to the driver itself are just as important, if not more so. We’re looking forward to testing and benchmarking those low-level changes when AMD eventually gets around to releasing them.
In the mean time, let’s start the colour guessing game for future versions: Radeon Software Burgundy? Razzmatazz? Drakes-neck?