Catalyst 15.8 Beta Performance Analysis – 290X & 390X vs. GTX 970 & 980

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As part of a regular feature for BabelTechReviews, this driver analysis will look at the performance of 26 PC games using the latest Catalyst 15.8 Beta drivers which were released on August 30. We will compare these drivers versus Catalyst 15.7.1 drivers using the MSI 390X OC, the reference 290X, and 290X CrossFire. We will also give the reference GTX 980 and the GALAX GTX 970 EXOC results using the very latest WHQL drivers GeForce 355.82 for another direct up-to-date comparison between these natural competitors, as well as GTX 980 Ti results versus 290X CrossFire.

DSCN0687We want to document the performance changes of this current Catalyst 15.8 beta driver on Windows 10. Here we are going to give you the performance results of all of our cards at 1920×1080, 2560×1440, and at 3840×2160, using 26 games and 3 synthetics tests including the “Kite Demo” on Unreal Engine 4. This driver performance evaluation will compare the performance changes since AMD’s older driver set Catalyst 10.7.1 released at the end of July.

Our testing platform is Windows 10 64-bit Home Edition and we are using an Intel Core i7-4790K which turbos all cores to 4.4GHz, an ASUS Z97E motherboard, and 16GB of Kingston “Beast” HyperX RAM at 2133MHz. The settings and hardware are identical except for the drivers being tested.

At R9 280X and above, we test at higher settings and at higher resolutions generally than we test midrange and lower-end cards. All of our games are now tested at three resolutions at 60Hz: 3840×2160, 2560×1440, and 1920×1080, and we use DX11 whenever possible with a very strong emphasis on the latest DX11 games.

Several games have had major patches which have changed their settings since we tested 290X CrossFire last. For example, Batman: Arkham Knight has received a major interim patch which introduced new settings and broke CrossFire.

Let’s get right to the test configuration, to the driver release notes, and then to our results.

Test Configuration

Test Configuration – Hardware

  • Intel Core i7-4790K (reference 4.0GHz, HyperThreading and Turbo boost is on to 4.4GHz; DX11 CPU graphics), supplied by Intel.
  • ASUS Z97-E motherboard (Intel Z97 chipset, latest BIOS, PCIe 3.0 specification, CrossFire/SLI 8x+8x)
  • Kingston 16 GB HyperX Beast DDR3 RAM (2×8 GB, dual-channel at 2133MHz, supplied by Kingston)
  • MSI R9 390X 8GB, at MSI factory overclock 1080/1500MHz.
  • VisionTek R9 290X & PowerColor 290X PCS+, 4GB, stock reference clocks (non-throttling, fan allowed to spin to 100%) Uber clocks.
  • GALAX GTX 970 EXOC, 4GB, GALAX factory overclock, supplied by GALAX
  • GeForce GTX 980, 4GB, reference version at reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • GeForce GTX 980 Ti, 6GB reference clocks, supplied by Nvidia
  • Two 2TB Toshiba 7200 rpm HDDs
  • EVGA 1000G 1000W power supply unit
  • Cooler Master 2.0 Seidon240 CPU water cooler, supplied by Cooler Master
  • Onboard Realtek Audio
  • Genius SP-D150 speakers, supplied by Genius
  • Thermaltake Overseer RX-I full tower case, supplied by Thermaltake
  • ASUS 12X Blu-ray writer
  • Monoprice Crystal Pro 4K

Test Configuration – Software

  • AMD Catalyst 15.7.1 and 15.8 Beta. High Quality, all optimizations off, use application settings except for Vsync, off.
  • Nvidia GeForce 355.82 WHQL drivers. High Quality, prefer maximum performance, single display.
  • AA enabled as noted in games; all in-game settings are specified with 16xAF always applied
  • All results show average frame rates except as noted.
  • Highest quality sound (stereo) used in all games.
  • Windows 10 64-bit Home Edition, all DX11 titles were rununder DX11 render paths. Latest DirectX
  • All games are patched to their very latest versions at the time of publication.

Here are the settings we always use in AMD’s Catalyst Control Center for our default benching.


Here is Nvidia’s Control Panel and the settings that we run:NvCP1NvCP2

T he 26 Game benchmarks & 3 synthetic tests

  • Synthetic
  • Firestrike – Basic & Extreme
  • Heaven 4.0
  • Kite Demo, Unreal Engine 4
  • DX11
  • STALKER, Call of Pripyat
  • the Secret World
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Hitman: Absolution
  • Tomb Raider: 2013
  • Crysis 3
  • BioShock: Infinite
  • Metro: Last Light Redux
  • Battlefield 4
  • Thief
  • Sniper Elite 3
  • GRID: Autosport
  • Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor
  • Alien Isolation
  • Assassin’s Creed Unity
  • Civilization Beyond Earth
  • Far Cry 4
  • Dragon’s Age: Inquisition
  • Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
  • The Crew
  • Evolve
  • Total War: Attila
  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
  • Grand Theft Auto V
  • ProjectCARS
  • the Witcher 3
  • Batman: Arkham Knight

If you missed the changes with the older drivers, look at AMD’s release highlights regarding the Catalyst 15.7.1 WHQL drivers which can be found in our performance analysis.

Release Notes Highlights for Catalyst 15.8 Beta

The release notes and download links for Catalyst 15.8 beta drivers can be found here for Windows 10.

Highlights of AMD Catalyst™ 15.8 Beta Windows Driver

    • This driver provides support for the Oculus 0.7 SDK on Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. More information on the Oculus 0.7 SDK can be found at the following link on the Oculus Developer site.
    • AMD LiquidVR support for Direct-to-Display. For more information visit the following link.

Performance Optimizations

    • Batman™: Arkham Knight – Performance and quality/stability updates
    • Ashes of the Singularity – Performance optimizations for DirectX® 12

Let’s head to the chart to compare the driver progress from the 15.7.1 Catalyst drivers to the new beta 15.8 Catalyst driver since we tested them the last time.

The Summary Chart

Below is the summary chart of 26 games and 3 synthetic tests. The highest settings are always chosen and it is DX11 when there is a choice, and the settings are ultra or maxed. Specific settings are listed on the Main Performance chart. We have added the “Kite Demo” on Unreal Engine 4 using the default settings at 1920×1080 as measured by Fraps.

The benches are run at 1920×1080, 2560×1440, and 3840×2160. All results, except for Firestrike, show average framerates and higher is always better. In-game settings are fully maxed out and they are identically high or ultra across all platforms. “NA” means the game would not run at the settings chosen, and an *asterisk means that there were issues with running the benchmark, usually visual artifacting.Mainfix

We note some performance improvements with the 290X and the 390X with AMD’s new Catalyst 15.8 beta driver over the older 15.7.1 driver in only a few games. Generally, the differences are just incremental benchmarking “noise”, and well within the benching margin of error. However, 290X CrossFire was a really mixed bag with some large performance gains with 15.8 beta over 15.7.1 and with some dismal failures. Although CrossFire doesn’t work with Far Cry 4, there was significant improvement to the visuals when CrossFire was enabled with the latest betas. Batman: Arkham Knight‘s latest interim patch broke CrossFire completely; it runs faster, but there is a lot of artifacting now.

There also seem to be some issues with CrossFire frame pacing with the latest beta, especially with Assassin’s Creed: Unity and with the Witcher 3.

As we frequently do, we will compare the GALAX GTX 970 EXOC with the R9 290X, and the reference GTX 980 with the MSI R9 390X OC, as well as 290X CrossFire with the GTX 980 Ti. All of these cards have been updated to the very latest drivers.big-pic Let’s head for our conclusion.


MadMax 2015-09-08 20-07-08-59So far, we would not necessarily recommend upgrading to the latest Catalyst 15.8 beta driver from 15.7.1 because there are advantages and disadvantages that are sometimes significant, depending on the game you are playing. For some games, Catalyst 15.8 may bring significant improvement over the older drivers; for others, it may bring some disadvantages.

Stay tuned, next up we are planning a performance evaluation for both Mad Max and for Metal Gear Solid: The Phantom Pain. And we shall add both games to our benching suite for our next evaluation.

Happy gaming!