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Feature-stuffed Catalyst Omega reinvents AMD's approach to graphics drivers

Brad Chacos | Dec. 10, 2014
Let's be honest: Most of us don't update our graphics drivers religiously.

Let's be honest: Most of us don't update our graphics drivers religiously.

Okay, maybe you do, Mr. Hardcore #PCMasterRace enthusiast, but a vast swath of gamers fiddle with drivers only when they absolutely have to — when something breaks, or when a new game is acting funky. AMD's new "Catalyst Omega" driver and its underlying philosophy are designed around that behavior.

Catalyst Omega marks the beginning of a new driver release schedule for AMD. The usual game updates and bugfix drivers will continue to roll out continuously as before, but going forward, AMD plans to reveal a major release brimming with new features once per year, to entice even the most stubborn of holdouts into updating their software. Catalyst Omega is just such a goodie-stuffed driver — and it's also the start of a new era of quality assurance for the company, according to Robert Hallock, AMD's technical communications lead.

But it also appears to be the potential dawn of a more ominous age for AMD enthusiasts, because the vast majority of Catalyst Omega's new features aren't available for one-generation-old Radeon 7000-series graphics cards, nor the current-gen R9 280 and R9 280X (which are basically rebrands of the older Radeon 7950 and 7970). When asked whether some of the features might hit 7000-series cards in the future, Hallock said "This driver is focused on R9 and R7."

AMD's Catalyst Omega is scheduled to roll out today. I've been testing the drivers for a couple of weeks now. Let's dig in!

Virtual Super Resolution

As you may have guessed from the name, Virtual Super Resolution is AMD's rival to Nvidia's Dynamic Super Resolution, and it's new in Catalyst Omega. When VSR is enabled, your graphics card will render games at a higher resolution than your monitor natively supports, and then downsample the image to native resolution when it's sent to your monitor. Virtual Super Resolution supports resolutions up to full 4K, even if you're using a 1080p monitor.

The technology gives you far smoother edges and textures than you'd see at your native resolution, as well as a much wider field of view — though that can occasionally wreak some havoc in games with small interface elements, as highlighted in the AMD-provided comparison below of Civilization: Beyond Earth at 1080p with VSR disabled (left) and enabled at 4K resolution (right). Downsampling also negates the need for anti-aliasing.

Actually using AMD's Virtual Super Resolution technology is much more seamless than using Nvidia's Digital Super Resolution, in my opinion — at least if you don't let Nvidia's software automatically 'optimize' your in-game settings. While Nvidia's DSR settings are buried inside its GeForce Experience software, AMD's technology lets you simply select higher-than-native resolutions via in-game options after you've enabled VSR in the Catalyst Control Center.


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