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AMD on Gaming vs. Pro Mode: “Not a Placeholder” in FE

Posted on July 26, 2017

There’s no doubt that most the news circulating right now will pertain to AMD’s new driver update – and it’s an impressive update, one which we’ll discuss below, but we wanted to revive the “gaming” & “pro” mode discussion.

In speaking with AMD about its “Gaming” and “Pro” toggle switch in the Vega drivers – something we previously demonstrated to be a UI-only switch – we learned that the company intends to do something more meaningful going forward. As of now, the toggle is nothing more than a psychological switch, limiting its usefulness to removing the WattMan button from the UI – not all that useful, in other words. Functionally pointless for Vega: FE as it launched, and symptomatic of a driver package which was either woefully incomplete or intended to encourage a placebo effect.


Going forward, it would be reasonable to assume that AMD would continue its already-public plans to move the toggle to switch between specific driver packages of varying ages. This is what we were led to understand in our initial gaming vs. pro mode coverage, in talks with AMD's Scott Wasson particularly (prior to the latest driver updates), and it follows that the driver toggling would still be in the plans. Theoretically, the idea would be that a user requiring professional drivers on either Radeon WX or Vega FE cards could grab the professional drivers for one “slot,” then shove the latest game driver into the next slot. To be very clear: this doesn’t mean performance magically improves with “gaming drivers;” in fact, all that’s really happening is an increase in driver update cadence for users of pro cards.

Typically, and straight from the mouth of AMD, pro drivers do not update as frequently as consumer drivers. When the updates happen, the pro drivers will receive all the same game-level optimizations as the consumer drivers. Let’s say you’re running the pro drivers and Battlefield 6 launches: Those pro drivers don’t need an update (the professional applications haven’t changed), and so don’t receive one on game launch. The drivers are unoptimized for this fictional game. Consumer drivers have launched, though, to support the new title. Going forward, AMD hopes to leverage its toggle switch to permit the user to fetch those consumer drivers for playing the latest games. At a later date, maybe when AutoCAD updates, the professional drivers will eventually launch and include the game optimizations.

It’s not a magical performance boost – this is something gained through usual driver pathways – but theoretically helps dual-purpose users.

As we learned of this intended functionality going forward, we asked the obvious: Why, then, did Vega: FE ship with a mode that doesn’t really do anything other than hide WattMan? Was it a placeholder?

The answer was “no,” of course – we wouldn’t expect a different one. To inject some opinion, we do see Vega: FE’s pro/gaming switch as a placeholder leveraged as nothing more than marketing material, and one which wouldn’t be filled-out until a later date. It seems as if that later date is imminent, and AMD hopes to release more appropriate drivers for Vega in the immediate future. 17.7.2 is first. A spoiled opportunity for Vega FE’s launch, but then again, there’s a reason that card wasn’t sampled.

As for the other updates, this driver launch carries with it significant functionality improvements for ReLive, Chill, and includes a new GPU Profiler and Fast Sync competitor.

The basics:

ReLive will now support 100Mbps bitrates, updates the UI for better information conveyance during use, and adds audio controls for the microphone (including push-to-talk functionality).

Chill has more games added to its whitelist, so users of the software can benefit from a greater spread of power-saving instances.

The driver package overall has taken its teachings from Chill and applied them driver-wide, improving input latency on a few key titles. We are waiting for AMD to send us a full list of titles for validation.

For Vega FE, we anticipate no greater than 3% performance uplift for most games with 17.7.2 at this time, based on our conversations with AIB partners. Some specific applications, like 3DMark 11, will see uplift closer to 10%. This is information from GamersNexus contacts and not from AMD officially.

WattMan has received bug fixes for this new update, including support for memory underclocking. This request was made by miners and developers, and AMD made underclocking HBM2 a possibility going forward. This potentially increases thermal headroom on the engine clock as well, though the usefulness of that headroom will be highly application-specific (as HBM2 clock impacts performance heavily in most applications, but not all).

The GPU Profiler makes moves to grant game developers lower level access to the render tasks accomplished canonically and gives better visibility as to which shaders can be optimized or asynchronously processed. We may talk about this more in the future, but that’s a big topic for another time.

Either way, the driver push is a major one for AMD. This coincides with the move to launch larger, more critical driver packages annually. We’re most interested in how Vega WX/FE will incorporate the new changes to gaming/pro mode, and whether that toggle will finally do something of value. A shame that the functionality wasn’t included at launch and, although AMD disagrees, we still see the button as a placeholder for its newly announced functions. Should have been left out altogether until this driver launch, probably, but so it goes.

The reduced input latency for gaming is most critical for our audience. We don’t presently have a methodology for validating this, but we’re looking into it. Theoretically, lowering input latency benefits players in more competitive titles; many of these are already well-optimized, according to AMD staff, but game developers leave plenty of holes in their code that need patching at the driver-level. AMD’s doing that with this new package, so looking good there.

Stay tuned for inevitable Vega gaming coverage shortly.

- Steve Burke.