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ATI gets graphics ready for Windows 7

Catalyst 9.3, a new "unified" driver set that should improve performance and some memory problems, supports both Windows Vista and Windows 7.

ATI graphics drivers will now be delivered in one tidy package for both Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Advanced Micro Devices said Wednesday that it has released Catalyst 9.3, a set of new graphics drivers that constitute a "unified" driver installation package, with support for both Windows Vista and Windows 7.

One of the biggest changes for Windows 7 is support for the Windows Display Driver Model 1.1, an update from WDDM 1.0 used in Vista, according to Andrew Dodd, a software product manager at ATI. "(Catalyst 9.3) is one single binary and if you install the driver under Windows 7, it automatically supports all the WDDM 1.1 features. If you install it under Windows Vista, it supports the WDDM 1.0 features," he said Wednesday.

Dodd said ATI is trying to get out in front of the official Windows 7 release. "We're trying to show the world where we are with our Windows 7 driver development. From now on, every single monthly Catalyst driver that comes out will include Windows 7 support (in addition to Vista)," he said. Catalyst 9.3 can also be used with the Windows 7 beta, Dodd said.

So, what kind of improvements will users see? "With Vista, if you had really high resolution and you had a number of windows open, you'd get to the point where you'd just run out of memory. In Windows 7, this will become much more efficient as far as memory usage and you'll never run into that situation. You can have as many windows as you like open at any resolution," he said.

Other features that are seeing changes are the Windows desktop and the Aero interface. Under Vista, DirectX 9 was required. "For Windows 7, in order to have the WDDM 1.1 driver certified (by Microsoft), you have to have DirectX 10 hardware," according to Dodd. "The (Windows) desktop was actually designed using the DirectX 10.1 API (application programming interface)."

The ATI Radeon 3000 and 4000 series of graphics chips have DirectX 10.1 support, Dodd said. The Radeon 2000 series will also be "fully operable under Windows 7," he said, though Radeon 2000 won't support DirectX 10.1. One of the biggest advantages of having 10.1 hardware is its readiness for DirectX 11, which will be an extension of 10.1, according to Dodd.

Gamers will also see performance improvements, Dodd said. "In our internal testing we're actually, in a number of cases, seeing that games are running faster under Windows 7 versus Windows Vista."

In a news release Wednesday, ATI also listed other improvements, including support for the Direct2D API introduced in Windows 7, giving third-party applications the ability to improve ClearType text rendering and hardware-accelerated vector graphics.