With AMD's 12.6 Beta Driver, Team Red's bloggers slipped in a rather significant announcement (accompanied by complete silence over the non-existent 12.5 drivers). In a departure from its nine years policy AMD will no longer release new driver updates on a monthly basis, shifting instead to an ‘as they’re ready’ schedule.
“With the release of the Catalyst 12.6 Beta driver, AMD would also like to announce that we are moving away from our Monthly Catalyst release plan. Our goal is to ensure that every Catalyst release delivers a substantial benefit to our end users; as we have today with the release of the Catalyst 12.6a Beta. We will still continue with the Catalyst naming convention; Catalyst: Year.Month., You just won’t see a new driver every single month. We are confident that this will only benefit the end user; you’ll only need to upgrade to a new Catalyst driver, when it makes sense.”
Overall this seems like a good idea. With drivers being such incredibly complex pieces of software engineering that handle millions of different basic configurations, it has probably been to AMD’s detriment that they’ve been forced to roll out a new driver every single month. Notably it missed the HD 7900 release in the January/February drivers and has relied an increasing amount on game-specific hotfixes, some of which have been mutually exclusive (at one point some users needed to choose between an optimised BF3, optimised Rage and Skyrim running properly).
(Skyrim took Catalyst 12.4 to both its knees)
Of late AMD have delivered all the functionality (game dependent settings, clear layouts etc) of their Nvidia counterparts, with a few handy tweaks of their own (such as an inbuilt video transcoder). The stage has also been set by the ability, through ‘Catalyst Application Profile’ (CAP) updates, to deliver game specific tweaks without a whole new driver set being released. In short while AMD has largely managed (or at least certainly deserved) to ditch its reputation for drivers that aren’t quite up as wholesome as Nvidia’s are. However its driver team has probably released the odd imperfect product due to this self-imposed monthly deadline - a change is both now easily done without affecting game-compatability (due to CAP) and very likely deliver a more fully polished product for Radeon users.
Atomic doesn’t feel that it’s completely necessary to have a driver update each month. Assuming AMD’s assertion it will release about eight driver sets a year, plus many more CAP updates is true, we do think this is a decision made of win.