AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 Driver Update, Boost & Performance Review 77

AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 Driver Update, Boost & Performance Review



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AMD today released Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 Edition, its major yearly graphics driver update, keeping up with a tradition it built over the past few years. Each year, before Christmas, AMD releases a new special driver that introduces several new software features that add to the functionality of AMD Radeon graphics cards. Besides a few fundamental under-the-hood changes, AMD's new Radeon Software Adrenalin brings performance updates spanning several games, and sometimes entirely new software interfaces and settings utilities. Adrenalin 2020 Edition ticks all these checkboxes and comes at a time when AMD is rolling out brand new 7 nm "Navi" GPUs across key high-volume market segments.

AMD's new major driver release also helps the company reiterate to gamers and PC enthusiasts its commitment to quality of software. Over the past decade, the company fought a perception battle among some that claimed AMD produces great hardware that's let down by software. An important way AMD is changing this perception is by delivering day-zero driver updates that align with major game releases, as a growing number of gamers prefer to pre-order, pre-load, and play their anticipated games the moment they're released.

AMD also uses the opportunity to fix bugs and issues with its software while being transparent about new bugs and issues it has just discovered and is working on. The other major weapon in AMD's perception battle is the annual major software update, which lends new features to graphics cards launched 3-4 years prior, also known as "Fine Wine". At the heart of both efforts is user feedback. AMD includes a feedback utility that acts as a direct line between end-users and AMD developers.

Since 2015, AMD claims it achieved a 12 percent performance improvement year-over-year on average (counting performance optimizations introduced throughout the year) and 93 percent software stability according to a QA Consultants study dated June 2018; along with 16 new software features introduced each year on average. The Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 being released today seeks to tick all three checkboxes.

In this article, we explore the various new features of AMD Radeon Software Adrenalin 2020 and take it for a spin across a selection of AMD Radeon graphics cards to check on Adrenalin 2020 performance improvements not only for Navi users, but to see what gains can be found on Polaris and Vega.

New Features

AMD reports that it introduces or improves 16 new features on average with each annual major driver release, which is a tough average to maintain. With Adrenalin 2020, the company promises 20 new or improved features, beginning with the driver installer. AMD wants to get its first impressions right and has overhauled the user interface of its installer to make it look modern and work beautifully. The installer features a beautiful animated background and more intuitive workflow. Simply clicking "install" does the job with no further prompts needed. If the driver you're trying to install isn't current, its installer will even let you fetch the latest driver from the web and install it instead. You'll also see an "advanced setup" drop-down that lets you select which components to install, and the option to "factory reset" (clean install).

When you choose the clean install option, you get to choose whether you want to keep your settings and custom game profiles or reset those too.

After software installation, you're presented with a screen that lets you select between three software "profiles." These are combinations of AMD-recommended settings for three main use cases: "gamer," "e-sports," and "standard." The "gamer" profile is recommended for most AAA PC gamers and enables all driver features. The "e-sports" feature is similar to "gamer," but comes with heavy performance optimization, such as limiting the tessellation factor to 8x, and the lack of Virtual Super Resolution. "Standard" is probably designed for creators (people who don't mainly game) and lacks AMD-recommended settings for nearly all features. You can switch between these profiles easily later or can completely skip this step for the classic experience, where no settings are pre-activated for you.

Below is an exhaustive list of the settings that are activated when you choose a profile:
  • "Standard": FreeSync
  • "Gaming": FreeSync, Enhanced Sync, Radeon Image Sharpening, Radeon Anti-Lag, Virtual Super Resolution
  • "eSports": FreeSync, Radeon Image Sharpening, Radeon Anti-Lag, 8x Tessellation Limit
  • "Skip this step": Nothing

Radeon Software

Radeon Software is the new all-encompassing control center for AMD graphics drivers. It replaces Radeon Settings and is designed to become town square for all your games. It doubles up as a launcher, so all your games, spanning all game launchers, are centralized into a list called "Game Center". From here, you can not only start your games, but also view some stats and tweak driver settings and game graphics. This is a nice way to centralize your games, especially when every game publisher is coming up with their own launcher and store. Much of its UI can also be made to spawn in the middle of your game by hitting Alt+R.

System Status is an element of Radeon Software that gives you a bird's eye view of the driver version, whether your phone is connected via AMD Link, and whether your hardware is up to date, to play the games installed. The Media & Capture pane is an excellent group of settings that let you control your streaming, recording, screengrab, GIF making, etc. You link it to your accounts across popular game streaming, online video, and social media platforms.

Radeon Software also comes with a Chromium-based web browser integrated. This is more useful when Radeon Software is spawned in-game, as it lets you browse the web for things such as walkthroughs or secrets without having to alt-tab to your main web browser. The in-game version of Radeon Software has a different layout with Game Center pushed to the background, and panes relevant to your current game, such as items from your Performance panel, at the forefront. Our only gripe with Radeon Software is that vital display settings that let you configure color depth, rotation, resolution, etc., have been relegated to a far-flung "gearwheel" button on the home-screen.

The Tuning tab in Radeon Software replaces "Wattman". It is a centralized location for monitoring and tweaking your AMD Radeon hardware. It includes automatic overclocking and undervolting presets, and a wealth of manual tweaking options that include GPU and memory tuning, voltage control, and fan control. When invoked in-game, it also presents live game-relevant data, such as FPS, frame time, and GPU and CPU usage, in a Task Manager-like UI. It seems the underlying functionality remained the same as in previous drivers. At this time, there's only a layout and graphics overhaul. We also spotted a few minor bugs, but none of them are dealbreakers. The Streaming tab gives you every possible setting to get you streaming on-the-fly from inside your game.

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