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AMD is doing a "tick-tock" launch sequence with its Catalyst graphics drivers package, taking the wraps off a new set today and announcing some significant changes to come in next month's release. The first, version 10.2, brings with it a reworked CrossFire profile system that will allow better performance in games using the multi-GPU technology.
The company moved CrossFire support and profile information to a separate file rather than making it part of the core Direct3D and OpenGL drivers. Consequently, Crossfire game profiles can and will now be distributed as small encoded XML files separate from the driver, so if a new game comes out and doesn't work well with multi-GPU setups, AMD can quickly test and distribute a small executable to fix this. For end users this means Crossfire support for more games with fewer waits and smaller downloads.
Catalyst 10.2 also adds support for Crossfire and CrossFireX support in Eyefinity setups, improves Crossfire power consumption by making the second GPU enter an ultra-low power state when you're just doing desktop work, and you can now pass audio through the DisplayPort connection to DisplayPort monitors.
With version 10.3 AMD is bringing even more goodies to the table – perhaps the most important of which is Catalyst Mobility. Starting in March the same binary installer you download every month will now work on most ATI Mobility Radeon-based notebooks (from the HD 2000 series onwards) running Windows Vista and Windows 7. AMD is giving manufacturers the option to switch off compatibility with these drivers and have users rely solely on their updates. Unfortunately for Sony, Toshiba and Panasonic laptop users, all three companies have opted out, meaning they won't get the latest features each month like everyone else.
Another big feature many gamers have been expecting since the introduction of ATI Eyefinity is bezel compensation. With Catalyst 10.3 users will now have access to a game-independent wizard that will allow them to adjust their display layout to compensate for monitor bezels and make lines flow smoothly from one monitor to the next. In addition, users will also be able to adjust the brightness, color and contrast for each individual monitor, as well as to manage multiple display groups on multi-monitor setups.
Finally, the company is adding support for 3D stereoscopic gaming and movie watching at 120Hz. Rather than introducing its own closed solution, AMD will support an open standard that middleware vendors will have access to, meaning the feature should work with the incoming raft of 3D products.
All in all, the company seems to be taking its current domination of the graphics card landscape a step further and has answered the cry of gamers everywhere in one fell swoop, with multiple new features that should take advantage of the powerful hardware and directly improve the gameplay experience.