Monthly Archives: June 2012

New AMD display drivers released [LINK]

Finally, AMD has released new drivers for all their cards, including “full support” for the Radeon HD 7900 series.  I have yet to test these, as download speeds are hovering around 50 KB/second, but I will post results as soon as possible.  It looks like X-Plane made it into the list of bug fixes:

  • XPlane: Textures no longer exhibit flicker and corruption

AMD Cataylst Software Suite Version 12.3

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How to create a trim indicator for X-Plane using Arduino

After successfully implementing switches, buttons, and LEDs with the Arduino microcontroller, I decided to take on servos.  Please forgive my makeshift indicator, which was constructed using a post-it note!  I am still looking for a good method for creating something more professional and open to suggestions.  The code is good, but the aesthetics are still undoubtedly in the “proof of concept” phase.

As you can see, the servos will work out of the box for the most part.  Each servo requires power, ground, and a digital pin.  To compensate for the USB output, I drilled a circular hole using a 5/8″ drill bit.  If you have more precise tools, you can make this as pretty as you want.  Personally, I would have preferred the USB output extend from the rear, but to accomplish this we would need some kind of female-female 90-degree connector, or a larger project box.

Required Hardware

Source Code

Arduino

 

PythonInterface

 

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"Guesstimated" release date for new HD 7970 drivers

I received another response from AMD about a potential release date for updated HD 7970 drivers:

Dear Christopher,

Your service request : SR #{ticketno:[xxx]} has been reviewed and updated.

Response and Service Request History:

There is no pre announced date, my best guesstimate would be Wednesday, next week.

In order to update this service request, please respond, leaving the service request reference intact.

Best regards,

AMD Global Customer Care

Don’t hold your breath.  I have a feeling they’ve been telling people “next week,” or even “next month,” for three months.  Nevertheless, I will travel to AMD Land on Wednesday to see whether or not the most serious issues have been remedied.

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AMD performance issues addressed again

Ben over at Laminar Research has taken the time to address the AMD performance issue again.  Even though this doesn’t change much right now, I think this small amount of communication will turn down the heat a little.  Here’s what was posted:

Finally, one last note on ATI Windows performance – I know everyone is itchy for an update, but here’s the thing: we have NDAs with AMD, NVidia, Apple, and Intel.  Therefore when we get information from them, I can’t post it here.  So unfortunately whether a bug is not being looked at, being looked at, understood, being fixed, or already fixed and just waiting to make it into some kind of release, I have to say the same thing: very little.  I know that that’s frustrating, but I think we’re better off having close relationships with these companies and being able to solve these problems.  If there’s ever a chance to put a work-around in X-Plane, we do that.

So I can’t give you any new news on ATI Windows performance, and I am sorry about that.  I can only say that it is my top priority. [source]

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Response from AMD about the HD 7970

In an effort to be fair to Laminar Research, I want to ensure I post AMD’s response to my pleas about their drivers.  This was a response to a system crash report:

Dear Christopher,

Your service request : SR #{ticketno:[xxx]} has been reviewed and updated.

Response and Service Request History:

The first official driver release for the HD7xxx series of cards should be the Catalyst 12.3 drivers released later this month, to date all of the drivers have been preview, beta, releases.

I have directed your feedback to the Catalyst Crew Team, the driver developers.

If the HD6xxx card works without issues in the system you have the HD7xxx installed, the problem will simply be the card or its drivers.  Once official drivers are released we can assist with troubleshooting.

In order to update this service request, please respond, leaving the service request reference intact.

Best regards,

AMD Global Customer Care

There are probably issues to be worked out on both ends, but after three months, this is not good news.  Is it normal to release the hardware and then try to support it?

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X-Plane 10.04r1 HDR FXAA vs. 8x AA (Radeon HD 7970) [VIDEO]

In my HD 7970 travels, I recorded two short videos so users can see a comparison between HDR and non-HDR flying.  This isn’t meant to be a direct comparison per se, but it will show how the HD 7970 is doing overall.  The first video uses HDR with atmosphere scattering and FXAA post process anti-aliasing enabled.  The second video uses 8x anti-aliasing with HDR disabled.

HDR with FXAA post process & atmospheric scattering

Filmed near KLXV airport, direct KDEN.  Aircraft is Twin Otter by X-Hangar.  While performance was so-so and artifacts were present during this trip, the simulator was usable.

Non-HDR with 8x anti-aliasing

Filmed over Lake Michigan after departing KORD.  Aircraft is Challenger 300 by ddenn.  While the 8x anti-aliasing outperformed HDR flying, the simulator froze about twenty minutes into the flight.  Other than that, the simulator was usable, with so-so performance.

I realize it’s apples and oranges to a degree, but which do you think looks better?

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Analysis: X-Plane 10 & the Radeon HD 7970 [VIDEO]

After looking at benchmarks and reviews, I decided to purchase the XFX Radeon HD 7970.  On paper, this thing is a powerhouse, and one of the best consumer-grade cards on the market.  I don’t do any gaming per se, and will only use the card for casual video editing, and Laminar Research’s X-Plane 10.

For the past few months, I have been monitoring the myriad issues with X-Plane 10 and AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 graphics card.  XP10 is a brand new piece of software, and the HD 7970 is a brand new piece of hardware.  With any new software and hardware, issues are to be expected; however, it’s been three months, and very little has changed.

Neither X-Plane 10 ($80) nor the Radeon HD 7970 ($580) are cheap.  Both involve substantial investment and dedication.  With costs that high, the consumer expects high quality, compatibility as stated on the box, and excellent performance.  If these expectations are not met, market forces should work their magic and force the hand of one or both parties.  Unfortunately, we have not seen much movement on either front; although, we have seen a few updates from AMD, each one better than the last.  At this point, we are now getting messages like, “The 7970 works flawlessly on every game except X-Plane 10.”

This leads me to the purpose of this article.  We’ve heard various reports of “issues” with the HD 7970, but what is really going on?  In spite of the various issues, what kind of performance can we expect out of the HD 7970 at this time?  I’d like to attempt to answer those questions on a basic level, and provide some insight into the software, hardware, and growing image problems.

Personal Interactions with Laminar Research

First, let me talk a little about my personal experience with Laminar Research, which has been very good.  Of all the bugs I’ve submitted, I’ve been contacted by Austin once, and Ben multiple times.  For the most part, I feel Laminar has been very responsive to the bugs I’ve submitted.  This is very important.  People like updates on “their” bugs, even though it isn’t always practical from the development side.  Overall, they are extremely smart and talented, and seem like genuinely nice people.

As a fellow developer, I understand the importance of good bug reports, especially considering the fact that X-Plane supports three operating systems.  Without reliable bug reports, Laminar Research, Microsoft, Apple, etc., could not do their job.  Many bugs are found prior to production use, but many more are found after release.  It is the reason we release patches and updates.

Damage to the Reputation of Laminar Research & AMD

At this point, it is clear that there is some damage being done to both Laminar Research, and although inevitably less, AMD.  The reason I say Laminar is enduring the most damage is because the HD 7970 and other AMD-based hardware work flawlessly and shine in tons of games.  When users see their card working as expected in every arena except X-Plane 10, they will inevitably point a finger at Laminar Research.

Also, threads like this certainly aren’t doing Laminar any favors: [1].  This thread regarding the HD 7970 was posted at the official X-Plane forum in January: [2].  Although Ben Supnik addressed the bug with candor at the beginning of February on the X-Plane Developer blog, we haven’t heard much about it since that time.  The last update came in the form of a blog comment in which Chris Serio basically restated what was in the blog post:

We don’t know if it’s a bug in the driver or not. We’re doing as much as we can to figure out the cause.

First, I’m not sure that is an acceptable answer after this amount of time, even if AMD is the culprit.  People want details.  People want to know that they are diligently working on this issue.  Also, I don’t know how much longer this can go on without seriously damaging the reputation of X-Plane 10, which is an amazing simulator in every other regard.  This is really a make or break moment for XP10, especially with the numerous FSXers leaving after the disappointing release of Microsoft Flight.  If it is to become more successful, this issue will have to be wrapped up in the short-term—the very, very short-term.

General Performance Results

The link below is a spreadsheet that shows some basic observations and relationships between rendering settings and frame rates.  To compute these results, we used the area around KJFK airport due to overall population density.  The same overcast and broken cloud layers were present in every single test.  I used Fraps to determine average frame rates, as well as the in-game frame rate indicator.  In order to show the artifacts and flashes, we had to use Fraps, which causes frame rates to be reduced while recording.  The performance results in the spreadsheet will be accurate, but please ignore the frame rates seen in the upper-left corner of each YouTube video.

Download HD 7970 Performance Results [Excel spreadsheet]

System Specs:

  • Intel Core i7-2600 (3.4 GHz)
  • 16GB DDR3 RAM (1333 MHz)
  • OCZ Vertex 3 SSD
  • XFX Radeon HD 7970 (3 GB, Core Edition)

Outside of the performance problems, the single biggest issue I saw was the presence of visual artifacts, flashes, and flickers on objects and various surfaces within X-Plane.  This greatly impacts the XP10 experience, and seems limited to the HD 7970 card.  I also have an HD 6870, and while I experience some performance issues, I do not see these kinds of artifacts and flashes.

Below are several videos, which show the type of flashes, flickering, and visual artifacts detailed in the performance spreadsheet.  Each video corresponds with a note number on the spreadsheet (see the notes column on the far right).

The combination of default roads and very high distance detail seemed to exacerbate the flashes and flickering.

Changing the road setting from default to extreme, while keeping very high distance detail, seemed to reduce the flashes and flickering slightly.

The following combination of settings, which included the “default” road setting and “very high” distance detail, produced strange red flashes, flickering, and other visual artifacts.

Turning on HDR exacerbated the flashes, flickering, and visual artifacts in many instances. A sharper reduction in frame rate was also seen, which seemed to hover around 24 FPS with the following settings.

The settings here are the same as those in “Note 4,” except anisotropic filtering, which was increased to “4x (hardcore).”

Microsoft Flight & Flight Simulator 2004

On a side note, I also loaded up both Microsoft Flight, and the antiquated Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004.  I jacked up every rendering setting I could find, and guess what?  Both performed flawlessly.  Now, I’m not going to switch to Flight or Flight Simulator 2004, but I think you see the point.

Conclusion

Well, as you could imagine, it’s very disappointing to write this article.  I was hoping the first article would be more positive…maybe how to fly an ILS approach in XP10 or something similar!  At the very least, I hope that Laminar Research is giving the problems with AMD and HD 79xx series video cards the highest priority.  These issues need to be fixed before the cityscape and overpass bugs, if possible.  It’s about making XP10 playable for everyone (i.e. making it truly stable).  The cityscape nuance is certainly not mandatory, but something we like to call a “nice-to-have.”  In my opinion, the overpass bug should also take a backseat to the AMD and HD 79xx bugs.

In the mean time, keep submitting bugs to Laminar Research and AMD, and don’t be afraid to express your frustration.  They cannot do their job without feedback and bug reports.

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Ben Supnik addresses AMD performance on Windows

Ben took some time to address the ongoing performance issues with cloud rendering, cars, and fill rate on Windows systems.  If you have experienced related performance issues in X-Plane 10, I highly recommend reading this article.  It is the first article that draws out a path forward.  For example, it was discovered that parts of the OpenGL API are slower than expected on AMD hardware.

There are two related posts—one for the moderately technical user, and one for professionals.

 

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