AMD’s huge Radeon Software update is designed to make your life easier
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The fresh features may be arriving a bit later than their usual holiday time frame, but AMD’s massive annual update for Radeon Software is finally here, and it’s a doozy. Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 builds atop new features introduced alongside the recently launched Radeon RX 6700 XT graphics card, seriously beefing up the capabilities of AMD’s awesome Link streaming feature, adding more performance metrics for AMD’s Ryzen processors, smoothing out the streaming experience, and more.
The refreshed application should provide a significant quality-of-life improvement for Radeon gamers, especially if you’ve gone a long time since updating your drivers. The best graphics cards need killer software to pair with their sublime hardware, after all.
Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1’s improvements start right up front. AMD is tweaking the setup process to offer a minimal install that removes more optional functionality (such as streaming tools and performance tuning) if you don’t want the full suite of features that Radeon software offers, as you can see above. The company also plans to offer driver-only installation if you don’t want Radeon Software whatsoever. It’s also worth noting that AMD still doesn’t require any sort of authentication to use its software, unlike rival Nvidia, which locks its GeForce Experience application behind a login.
Another huge quality-of-life upgrade? Improved bug reporting and crash tools, following up on endeavors kicked off by AMD over the past year. AMD says the Bug Report tool it introduced in 2020 significantly reduces the turnaround time for bug fixes when community members utilize it. Now it will automatically launch when certain errors happen. A related tool, the new AMD Crash Defender, can help keep your system running in some extreme scenarios that would previously cause full-on crashes or spawn the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death.
AMD Link gets a Windows app and co-op streaming
The big draw of these annual upgrades are the new features. Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 adds several, with the most notable being AMD Link’s improved capabilities. AMD says that over one million people downloaded Link during the Isolated Times of the past year, tripling the user base, so the company decided to amp it up.
AMD Link debuted in 2017 alongside the now-familiar Radeon Overlay. At first, Link merely married your phone to your gaming PC, letting you see real-time performance metrics and manage ReLive broadcast controls in the palm of your hand. By 2019, Link could also stream games for you to play on mobile devices and VR headsets, similar to Steam’s in-home streaming option. The upgrades in Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 aim to enhance those capabilities.
Two major features stick out. First, AMD now offers a “Link Game” feature that allows you to invite friends to play with you in local co-op games while you’re at your PC, after you send them an authentication code. “Even though your friend may be a few floors or a few hundred miles away, all they need is a Link code from you to get connected to your PC so you can play a game together as if you were both in the same room,” the reviewers’ guide states. Yes please! It sounds similar to Steam’s new Remote Play Together feature, although there are some key differences (and limitations) we’ll discuss below.
Second, AMD now offers a Link app for Windows devices, breaking free of its former mobile- and TV-centric shackles. Link on Windows 10 (there’s no Windows 7 support, alas) behaves similarly to the mobile versions, so you’ll be able to play with your buddies via Link Game, but with a key difference: AMD Link requires Radeon Software to be installed on your PC, and your friend needs AMD Link to join up, so you’ll only unlock those co-op benefits if both you on your pals all have Radeon graphics cards installed. That’s a major limitation compared to something like Steam Remote Play (which doesn’t require any specific hardware installed on your PC), doubly so when you consider that the Steam Hardware Survey shows that only about 16 percent of gaming PCs include Radeon graphics.
That’s a bit of a bummer, obviously, but AMD says that the Windows app’s setup uses custom APIs to help offer the best possible performance. To that end, AMD Link is adding several notable features that surpass what you find in most similar streaming offerings: a Quality of Service feature for great no-hassle network performance, the ability to stream games at up to a blistering 144Hz (most streaming apps cap things at 60Hz), 5.1 surround-sound support, and the ability to import photos from your phone to Link’s central media gallery. Good stuff if you can meet the hardware requirements!
Those improvements build on top of AMD’s already-spectacular performance. As we wrote when AMD Link introduced its streaming feature, “The company claims it can deliver up to 4K/60-fps experiences on mobile devices and 1440×1440 resolution on VR headsets at low latency, all thanks to low-level hardware acceleration and the fact that AMD controls the entire technology stack on the PC encoding side. AMD claims it can stream with up to 44 percent higher responsiveness than ‘competitive solutions’ like the Steam Link app.”
Ryzen performance metrics, PlayReady AV1 decode, streamlined streaming
AMD Link may have received the biggest feature upgrades, but it didn’t hog all of them.
Going forward, Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition’s Performance Tuning tab—the feature formerly known as Radeon Wattman, which lets you monitor and tinker with your Radeon GPU’s performance—now includes a section with detailed metrics for AMD’s fantastic Ryzen processors if you have one installed. Previously, you needed separate AMD apps to monitor your Radeon GPU and Radeon CPU, unless you relied on a third-party tool that tracks both. It’s great to get them both together in a single one-stop-shop location.
AMD redesigned the layout of the Performance Tuning tab to present its various graphs and information more clearly, while offering the ability to go even deeper by clicking on specific metrics for a more detailed view. Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 also adds a new “Stress test” tool (shown above) that hammers your system so that you can ensure your various Performance Tuning tinkering winds up running stable. It’s an excellent addition for enthusiasts.
Moving on, this update streamlines the broadcasting and video capture tools formerly known as ReLive. All of the various streaming and recording options have now been condensed into a single tab for easier perusal, because nobody likes hunting down disparate settings spread throughout a complicated app like Radeon Software. The app also now features a setup wizard intended to ease the onboarding process for gamers who want to start sharing their escapades, but lack the knowledge needed to configure nitty-gritty settings. After you tell the wizard whether you’re interested in live streaming or offline recording, it will scan your hardware and network settings, then make recommendations on which dials and knobs need to be flipped to which places.
Again, this sounds like a superb quality-of-life improvement if you use Radeon Software’s native broadcasting tools rather than opting for a fuller-featured, but more complicated option like OBS Studio.
But wait, there’s more
If your preferred method of streaming is watching videos rather than creating videos, you’ll be pleased to hear that Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 adds support for PlayReady AV1 Hardware DRM Enablement. That means you’ll be able to use hardware-accelerated AV1 decode to watch compatible videos locked behind Microsoft’s PlayReady digital rights management, though you’ll need a pretty new (and beefy) system to take advantage of it. The PlayReady AV1 support will be limited to brand-spanking-new Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs and requires Windows 10 with KB5000842 updates installed.
AMD’s graphics package now also includes a “Vivid Gaming” preset and an improved color correction feature, complete with “Color Deficiency Correction” sliders that can be tinkered with to compensate for all three major color blindness types. It’s awesome to see AMD pushing gaming to be more inclusive. The company says activating these features don’t impact performance; however, these color correction features will work only on Radeon RX 5000-series and RX 6000-series graphics cards. Hope you’ve been able to score one.
That’s it for the new features, but it’s worth quickly recapping the notable extras introduced alongside the Radeon RX 6700 XT earlier this year—they might as well be considered part of this package, given that they’re only a month or so old. In March, AMD added the aforementioned “Stress Test” to the Performance Tuning tab; DirectX 12 support for its killer Radeon Anti-Lag technology, which now supports every major gaming API; an improved version of Radeon Boost that wraps in Variable Rate Shading, a performance-boosting DirectX 12 Ultimate feature; and, by popular user demand, the reintroduction of Frame Rate Target Control, a tool that lets you set a frame rate cap for your GPU to help keep noise and heat down.
All in all, Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 might not offer as many momentous new features as prior milestone Radeon Software releases—but it doesn’t need to anymore. After years of constant iteration and enhancements, AMD’s graphics hub is in an excellent place when it comes to features, even surpassing Nvidia’s vaunted software in many ways.
Got a Radeon graphics card, and keen to give Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition 21.4.1 a whirl? It’s going live this morning. Simply check for updates in Radeon Software if you’ve already got it installed, or head over to AMD’s driver page to search for a fresh download.
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Senior editor Brad Chacos covers gaming and graphics for PCWorld, and runs the morning news desk for PCWorld, Macworld, Greenbot, and TechHive. He tweets too.