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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.

...If your system supports it, that is. The first iteration of Virtual Super Resolution requires scaler hardware found only in a handful of graphics cards: The R9 285, R9 290, R9 290X, and dual-GPU R9 295X2. Sure, the price of Radeon cards has plummeted recently, but those models are still on the beefy end of the spectrum. Fear not, budget gamers! AMD hopes to release a driver that enables VSR in the rest of the R-series lineup using software tricks sometime in early 2015 — which, admittedly, takes some of the shine off Catalyst Omega's "ONE DRIVER PER YEAR!" pitch.

It's also hard not to feel a wee bit disappointed that this feature is limited to current-gen Radeon hardware alone, as Nvidia rolled DSR out to GTX 500, 600, and 700-series cards after establishing it in the new GTX 970 and 980.

Your monitor's resolution and refresh timing also need to be supported for Virtual Super Resolution to function, though the most common resolutions are. If your monitor doesn't meet spec, the option to enable VSR won't even be available in the Catalyst Control Center, as I discovered when I tried using Catalyst Omega with a 30-inch, 2560x1600 monitor. Also note that full virtual 4K resolution is available only with the R9 285.

It's great to see graphics vendors actively supporting downsampling after years of leaving it to third-party solutions like Peter "Durante" Thoman's (stellar) GeDoSaTo. Technologies like Virtual Super Resolution are a smart way to utilize the extra horsepower of modern high-end graphics cards with monitors that gamers actually use — especially when you consider how screen resolutions have been largely stalled for the past decade.

New monitor support galore — including FreeSync

Speaking of displays, Catalyst Omega also enables support for AMD's FreeSync technology. FreeSync is similar (yet again) to Nvidia's G-Sync: Both technologies force your graphics card and monitor to sync their refresh rates, alleviating the pesky screen tearing and stuttering issues that can pop up under normal circumstances. We've seen Nvidia's G-Sync implementation in action, and the result is stunningly smooth.

Catalyst Omega paves the road for AMD's response. The first FreeSync monitors have yet to hit the streets, but Samsung recently announced FreeSync support for a whole line of 4K displays, and Hallock says at least three other display vendors will be showing FreeSync-compatible monitors at CES 2015. The initial FreeSync monitors are expected to be released next year, with Samsung's UD590 and UE850 4K displays launching in March.

But the first 5K monitor is already here, in the form of Dell's 27-inch UP2715K. Catalyst Omega includes support for the display and its eye-popping 5120x2880 resolution, though your graphics card needs at least a pair of DisplayPort 1.2 connections to power such a beastly screen.


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