Interview with ATI's Terry Makedon - Catalyst 10.2, 10.3 and more
As well as taking our own look at AMD's forthcoming Catalyst 10.2 and 10.3 driver releases, the Catalyst team's head honcho Terry Makedon also very kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of our inevitable slew of questions about the features being showcased and released within these driver sets.
Want to see what he had to say? Then read on!
Elite Bastards: I'm sure everybody reading this knows your name and role by now, but for the sake completeness we might as well take this opportunity for you to introduce yourself and explain your role within ATI.
Terry Makedon: Thank you Andy, it is always fun to do these interviews with you. Well, I have been with ATI/AMD for 9 years now and I am the Manager of Software Product Management. This means that my team and I are responsible for the roadmap and delivery of Catalyst drivers (and all other software for Radeon products). It is my great pleasure to speak to you and talk about some of our common interests like 3D and GPUs.
Elite Bastards: Starting out with a general question before we move on to the specifics, the past year has seen the introduction of Windows 7 and an entire series of DirectX 11 graphics boards amongst other things - How pleased are you with the progress the Catalyst programme has made during that period? Any particularly proud moments, or things you'd change if you could relive the past 12 months again?
Terry Makedon: This year was awesome. The Radeon HD5xxx series of products have been the talk of the GPU industry for many months now, and have been very embraced by consumers. Being involved with the software/drivers for those products was really cool. Eyefinity, DirectX 11 and Stream were the three key features of the HD5xxx family and all are very software dependant. Delivering the first DX11 driver to the market was certainly a highlight for me.
Elite Bastards: Moving on to the new features being announced with Catalyst 10.2 now; the clear headline feature here is the introduction of application profiles, and the obvious question which arises is why did it take so long to introduce a more robust profile system?
Terry Makedon: It’s always a matter of priorities. Simple as that. There were other more important things being worked on. Imagine this hypothetical scenario. You have 10 engineers and 100 features that you want to be worked on. Part of my job is to prioritize what gets worked on first. So at some point things that you want to get worked on simply cant get started. In this instance those 10 engineers had to get DX11 driver out first.
Elite Bastards: When ATI needs to create an application profile for a new game to add CrossFire support and perhaps fix some issues, what is the process involved in doing this and how long would you typically expect it to take?
Terry Makedon: Our software engineers get assigned the task , they profile the game and see which one of the various Crossfire profiles makes the game behave best. After that they simply add the code into the profiler file and we get it uploaded on our website. I would say end to end that can take just a few hours.
Elite Bastards: Following on from this, how quickly would you normally expect a profile to become available for a new game after it hits retail shelves?
Terry Makedon: I would expect it to happen the same day.
Elite Bastards: Is there any particular reason for shying away from letting end-users create or edit their own application profiles?
Terry Makedon: It’s my opinion that this profiling is something we should do as opposed to just letting our users go and figure out what to do. Remember, the vast majority of our users are not technical enthusiasts like readers of EB are. We are confident we will have the best and most appropriate profile from day one. If our theory proves wrong we are always open to passing the buck to our end users to do the research for us ;-)
Elite Bastards: Moving on to Eyefinity now, and we've seen a number of new features targeting Eyefinity users emerge within Catalyst 10.2 and 10.3, but is there still room for more improvement from a driver standpoint? In particular, I'm thinking about criticism of new games being released which don't work well in an Eyefinity configuration - Is this something that can be resolved at a driver level, or is it more of a developer relations issue?
Terry Makedon: A bit of both. Our main goal is to have a robust Eyefinity SDK available to game devs so that they can make it work seamlessly. This is an ongoing effort and at GDC next month we will be releasing a newer version to them. At the same time I do feel it is up to us to make sure the experience is seamless, so we will do whatever we have to in the driver to make it “just work” (but of course never altering the game in such a way that would violate the ISV’s vision of the game)
Elite Bastards: Is there any particular reason why it's taken quite so long for CrossFire support to be fully enabled for Eyefinity configurations - What were the technical issues (if any) involved with getting this working properly?
Terry Makedon: I wish I had a glamorous answer about some major technical pitfall that caused the delay – but reality is not that interesting. It is simply an issue of QA testing resources. With us launching so many chips in the last few months we simply were using up all our test resources for bring up and launch of those products. We didn’t have the time and people required to do a real good QA test of Eyefinity on Crossfire for official Catalyst release. Don’t forget though that this feature was enabled in various hotfix drivers for many months now (this simply means it was “untested and unsupported” by us). Now we are ready to give it the official seal of approval.
Elite Bastards: Enabling stereoscopic 3D support seems like an exciting step forward in these days of everyone raving about Avatar - Has this been developed on account of interest from third-parties about creating products which work on ATI graphics solutions, or simply something that's been added in "just in case"?
Terry Makedon: While I personally have never been a fan of 3D stereo gaming (which is nothing new – it has been around for over a decade), the big push in the consumer industry with Hollywood, TV makers, and content providers is amazing. At CES this year in Las Vegas, it seemed that every single booth had 3D glasses in them and the industry seems to be very consolidated in trying to push 3D stereo to consumers. Even we had 2 demos one for gaming and one for 3D stereo bluray. Technically supporting stereo 3D is not that difficult, so our view is we will enable 3rd party vendors to provide solutions to our users.
Elite Bastards: Catalyst 10.3's "superstar" feature has to be the addition of Mobility Radeon support for the vast majority of notebooks running supported GPUs - Are you pleased that the majority of manufacturers seem to be happy to allow support for monthly Catalyst updates on their products?
Terry Makedon: YES with big bold letters. We have been pushing for laptop GPU driver updates for many years, and had it for many years now. Finally we are able to deliver it to many more users. I do urge laptop users to update their GPU drivers to the latest Catalyst every month for the most up to date feature, performance, and bug fixes.
Elite Bastards: Was any reason given by the manufacturers that didn't want their notebook models included within Catalyst? I'm assuming it's all down to the fear of increased support calls on their part?
Terry Makedon: No they don’t give us reasoning. It is their business decision to not partake in the Catalyst mobility program and we respect that totally. If their users are upset about that decision I am sure they will let the vendors know about it ;-)
Elite Bastards: Will you be adding Mobility Radeon support for any older generations of parts in the future, or is the Mobility Radeon HD 2000 series as far back as you'll go in Catalyst driver updates?
Terry Makedon: We will only go back to 2000. I am sure that the majority of our users will be satisfied with that level of support. Don’t forget there are also other ways to force Catalyst to install on your laptop which I shouldn't be talking about since its not officially supported by us ;-)
Elite Bastards: Are there any particular difficulties or issues you have to be aware of when adding support for Mobility parts to Catalyst, or is it a very straightforward process from a technical point of view?
Terry Makedon: The only issue is specific laptop customizations, for example brightness controls may be CTRL F8/F9 for you and CTRL F5/F6 for me. There is no way to work around something like unfortunately.
Elite Bastards: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers about all things Catalyst? I know you love to tease us with hints about what to expect in the future from time to time!
Terry Makedon: Man, with all the good stuff we have in Cat 10.2/10.3 I really don’t have anything too major to tease about now – well maybe a little something – a slight redesign of CCC has started internally ;-)
Elite Bastards: Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions - As always, it's a pleasure to talk to you!
Terry Makedon: You are very welcome, I do enjoy Elite Bastards and its one of my sites I read often. For your readers that are interested in Catalyst, let me invite them to follow me on Twitter - where I do give up to date information on many things related to Catalyst, and I also do give out free games on occasion as well. Take care Andy and talk to you again soon.
Terry Makedon and child - I'll leave it to you to guess which is which!