ATI is taking the wraps off some major changes to its Catalyst drivers today. These monthly graphics driver updates usually focus on minor tweaks, bug fixes, and performance improvements, but this month and next month will usher in some singificant new features.
Catalyst 10.2 should be avialbe today (February 17), and brings along with it the following features:
First, the Crossfire multi-GPU architecture has been signficantly changed. Crossfire support used to be part of the core Direct3D and OpenGL drivers, but has now been moved out to a seperate Crossfire DLL file. End users won't notice anything because of this, but it will let ATI be more agressive and flexible with future changes and improvements to the way Crossfire works.
Second, Crossfire game profiles will now be distributed as a small encoded XML file seperate from the driver. So if a new game comes out and doesn't work well with Crossfire multi-GPU setups, ATI can quickly test and distribute a small executable (a few hundred kilobytes) to get it working and improve performance, without the need to validate and test the whole driver stack. Translation: Crossfire support for more games, sooner, with smaller downloads.
Speaking of Crossfire, Catalyst 10.2 adds support for Crossfire in Eyefinity setups. So if you're one of those people with a pair of Radeon 5000 series GPUs and three monitors, you should notice some improvements.
Power utilization in Crossfire setups has been improved as well. The second GPU now enters an ultra-low power state when you're just doing work on your desktop, saving a few watts.
Finally, ATI will support audio through DisplayPort. There aren't a lot of DisplayPort monitors that accept audio over the DP connection, but if you have one, it should work now.
The March driver release, Catalyst 10.3, adds more goodies:
Perhaps the most important is Catalyst Mobility. The same binary Catalyst installer you download each month will now work on most laptops with ATI graphics chips inside. There are only three manufacturers that want their systems blacklisted from allowing the latest drivers from ATI to install: Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic. If we can editorialize for a moment: Shame on you. Allowing your users to download the latest graphics drivers improves customer satisfaction and reduces support calls. It's a win-win. Get with the program.
Eyefinity users will be pleased that bezel correction will be added to Catalyst 10.3. You'll step through a wizard in the Eyefinity setup screen to hide the pixels that would be rendered where the bezels are on your monitors, making lines flow smoothly from one monitor to the next. It's a feature Matrox has had in its multi-display setups for some time, though ATI claims its method of achieving this goal is better.
They Eyefinity love keeps flowing with per-display color adjustment, as well as the ability to make multiple display groups on multi-monitor setups (you can have two monitors as one large surface and a third as an independant surface, for example). Switching from one display mode to another (cloned vs. stretched) is made easier with hotkey support.
Finally, ATI is adding a new stereoscopic 3D driver hook to Catalyst 10.3. Basically, it is enabling a quad-buffering solution (double-buffering for each eye) to enable stereoscopic 3D on 120Hz monitors. As with the Crossfire architecture changes in Catalyst 10.2, end users won't really notice anything from this. It's a feature meant to be used by middleware and monitor vendors who provide 3D graphics solutions, like iZ3D.