MLAA 2.0 Performance and Image Quality Review

Radeon Graphics

AMD introduced MLAA 2.0 with their latest Catalyst versions. MLAA 2.0 is supposed to greatly improve performance and image quality.

MLAA or Morphological Anti Aliasing is AMD’s own way of getting rid of aliasing and the first version was implemented with Catalyst 10.10. MLAA blends colors in the neighborhood of discontinuities between pixels, you can call it blurring if you want.

Because MLAA is a post-process effect (applied after the frame is rendered) it is pretty difficult to capture screenshots of it. Using Fraps or the old Print Screen function won’t cut it. RadeonPro is the tool that can do it. But because AMD dropped some DLL files from their packages, 3rd party tools have difficulties in functioning properly with AMD GPUs…classic AMD. In return, 3rd party apps dropped/will drop support for AMD Cards.

After fiddling with tons of dll files I managed to make RadeonPro work with most games, except Battlefield 3. Even though the FPS overlay works fine with BF3, the screenshot function either doesn’t work or the result of the screenshot is a black image… I had similar problems with DiRT3 but those were fixed rather easy. Not to mention that in the process of trying to make Battlefield 3 work with RadeonPro I bricked the game and took me two full days to get the game starting again…

MLAA doesn’t necessarily need MSAA or any Anti Alias to be enabled, I used the maximum deferred AA available for each respective game.

MLAA 2.0 Catalyst Control Center

Another thing. MLAA 2.0 seems to greatly improve performance from MLAA 1.0 especially in DirectX 10/11. I tested the following games in DirectX 9 and got the same results for both MLAA 2.0 and MLAA 1.0: Crysis 2, Metro 2033, Syndicate, Skyrim, The Darkness II, Mass Effect 3, Alan Wake. There is a small improvement from MLAA 1.0 to MLAA 2.0 in DirectX 9 titles but these are negligible.

So regarding performance, I will stick with DirectX 11 games only.

DirectX 11 Tests

Really great performance boost with Battlefield 3. Going from 22 average FPS to 36 means a whooping 64% increase ! Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take screenshots…

Crysis 2 shows a 18% improvement when using the new MLAA 2.0 . Image quality isn’t greatly improved and to me, not using MLAA makes the game look better. You’re better off using standard Anti-Aliasing than MLAA 1.0/2.0. BUT MLAA 2.0 has a very small performance hit, about 2-3%.

Great performance improvements also appear with DiRT 3. A 30% increase is not bad at all. Biggest image quality difference is seen on the car’s mesh where MLAA 2.0 does a great job in smoothing out jaggies.

Positive improvements regarding performance in Metro 2033 too, about a 20% increase from MLAA 1.0 to 2.0 but the image quality isn’t greatly improved.

Vegetation, shadows and about everything looks better with MLAA 2.0 in Formula 1 2011. You also get a 31% increase in frames rendered each second.

DirectX 9 Image Quality Comparison

Conclusion

So based on the five tests done (DX11): MLAA 2.0 brings a average 30% performance improvement over MLAA 1.0. Biggest improvement was found in Battlefield 3 where the difference between the two MLAA versions is of 64%. AMD “boasts” that MLAA 2.0 is up to 80% faster, Battlefield 3 comes pretty close to that but I think that a handful of games will show those kind of differences.

I’m not a big fan of MLAA and used it in just a couple of games (RO2 and Hard Reset), I think MLAA blurs the image too much. Moreover MLAA used to be quite a performance hit so I pretty much never used it.

And the most important thing is that DirectX 9 games aren’t very affected by this MLAA code change. All DirectX 9 games I tested showed less than 2% FPS increase between using MLAA 1.0 and 2.0…

Besides MLAA 2.0, Catalyst 12.2 brings support for Super Sampling Anti Aliasing in DirectX 10/11 games. Although image quality is greatly improved the performance hit is very high, but this is another story.

EDIT:

I failed to mention that HUD and text in general is still affected by MLAA. MLAA 2.0 was supposed to ameliorate “text roundness” and in my opinion this is a big flaw.

Also, I added a poll that will help me with future plans I have so please vote. Thank you.

Test System Specifications
Test Hardware
Processor

Intel Core i5-2500K (Sandy Bridge)

4.5 GHz, 6 MB L3 Cache, power-saving settings disabled, Turbo Boost disabled.

Motherboard MSI P67-C43-B3, Intel P67 Chipset
Memory 2 x 2 GB DDR3 1600MHZ
Hard Drives

WD 500 GB SATA III (OS)

Samsung 750 GB Sata II (Game)

Graphics Card Sapphire HD6950 1 GB
Power Supply Corsair TX 650 W
System Software And Drivers
Operating System Windows 7 SP1 x64
Drivers AMD Catalyst 12.1 WHQL
AMD Catalyst 12.4 Beta 8.96 15 March

  • pirey

    it is in the catalyst 12.4 Beta 8.96 15 March ?

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      Yes. MLAA 2.0 was actually implemented since 8.96 28 Feb

  • xAcid9

    Will it support 5000 series?

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      Yup, MLAA 2.0 works with all HD5-6-7 Series Cards.

  • Krist

    Always disabled here.
    I think MLAA blurs the image too much
    I use just 2x AA and i think it´s good enough.

  • Trons

    Really is for HD 4000 Series ?, MLAA Is launch in the drivers 10.10 With The Launch of the HD 5000 Serires.

    Please Correct Me, Series HD 4000 Can use This Morphological ?

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      You’re right, MLAA doesn’t work with HD4000 cards at all. So MLAA 2.0 will work with HD6000 and HD7000 series. As for HD5000 cards, I’m not sure but I think you can enable MLAA through RadeonPro if Morphological AA isn’t available in CCC.

      Info is pretty scarce but since MLAA 2.0 is basically some lines of code (nothing HW related) it should work with cards that had support for MLAA to begin with.

      When CCC 12.4 comes out we’ll now for sure.

  • Trons

    By i have a HD 5870 and play Battlefield 3 and Have a strong Performance, yesterday test and is amazing. Series HD 5000 can use too this MLAA 2.0.

  • pred_error

    have you tried other AA postprocessers that works with AMD GPUs? for example the injector for FXAA and SMAA, theres even a hybrid that combines both FXAA and SMAA.

    they’re performance cost from my usage in most games were minor and barely noticeable yet has the most difference and better quality compared to MLAA. after seeing your benchmark i am left with more question marks on whether to keep using the hybrid or give this another chance. what are your thoughts on this? and would you even benchmark and make comparisons to educate the masses on other available AAs?

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      SMAA looks good but having to deal with yet another 3rd party tool makes me sad.

      Post AA is a b**ch to capture with outdated tools and AMD keeps removing dlls. Nevertheless I’ll probably look into different Post AA pretty soon.

      Also want to see how Adaptive/SSAA performs/looks against MSAA.

      All this when 12.4 WHQL comes out, AMD says that SSAA for DX11 is only supported by 7000 series, full support for hd6000 to be added with 12.4 whql. Until then I’ll read some more AA related articles and “build a solid methodology” (tips are appreciated). EQAA should I bother with it?

      As for using MLAA 2.0, image quality hasn’t improved by much. The only game in which I really noticed better IQ is F1 2011…but IQ is a very subjective matter. Overall, performance really improved while IQ stayed pretty much the same.

      • pred_error

        thanks for the quick reply and your thoughts on it. will be great once 12.4 is released to have a benchmark and comparison.

        another question i have to ask is if i have High Definition textures replaced from the original say 1024 to 4096 resolution for example in either games like Skyrim HD DLC or modded car models in F1 2011, how does this affect any AA?

      • kn00tcn

        the injectors are ‘better’ than mlaa since you can take a screenshot with anything & the performance drop is pretty much nothing for the image quality you gain

        they replace a dx dll that the game loads by default, odd that mlaa is hardware related… those injectors i heard use the cpu, which is fine, only 0-3fps hit

        why are people injecting into games that already have FXAA in them o_O

        @pred_error, all of these post process AAs (MLAA, FXAA, SMAA) affect textures, BUT that can be a good thing, for example shader effects like shine/water do not get any AA without these modes, so you could say the quality improves as long as you’re not blurring too much or blurring it in a weird way with lots of artifacts (which is what specifically MLAA seems to do a lot)

  • pesticide

    so many options, do they really expect us to try every signle combination ? Its more combinations the a bloody bycicle lock ffs … why doesnt every game company reccomend the settings to use best for their game. This is maddnes for the consumer to WASTE his bloody time figuring out which works best ….

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      You don’t need to try every combination but some are very happy to do so, talking about enthusiasts.

      Because some game developers do a terrible job at implementing AA we have so many AA “techniques”. You should look at Nvidia’s TRMSAA /TRSSAA and AMD’s SSAA they do miracles.

      There is a lot to debate about but it’s always better to have a multitude of choices than being forced to use something you don’t like or your hardware isn’t capable of running.

  • asker0

    does it support 4000 series??

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      MLAA is not supported by HD4000 Cards. Only 5-6-7 series have this option.

  • Trons

    HD 5000 series, can use in the CCC 12.4 BETA.

    In The Option “Mode Anti-Aliasing”

    MLAA 2.0
    MSAA
    SSAA

    Too Series HD 5000 Have Support This Anti-Aliasing.

  • marco

    Does 12.3 WHQL has MLAA2 ?

    • Trons

      AMD say “Catalyst 12.4 WHQL have MLAA 2.0″ dont believe what have support to MLAA 2.0 the catalyst 12.3

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      No, 12.3 WHQL doesn’t come with MLAA 2.0

  • DOS

    BenchmarK3D,
    Try this SMAA injector
    http://mrhaandi.blogspot.com/p/injectsmaa.html
    For me it showed just great results in BF3, the perf. impact was low and I didn’t notice any image blurring. But in DX9 games that I tested it was much slower than even regular MSAA
    So please, make some tests, as SMAA afaik is based on MLAA and brings great improvements over it.
    Of course, it has to be tested with MSAA and any other AA disabled.

    • http://benchmark3d.com Johnny 3D

      Thanks, I’m already aware of that injector. Waiting for 12.4 WHQL or at least another 12.4 Beta before I know what I have to do…

  • varazdat

    Something I do not like this anti-aliasing. The picture becomes murky and drawing becomes worse.

  • SolidEther

    HD5000 series cards are capable of using MLAA after a certain driver set is installed I believe it was any set after 11.4 ?? not sure the exact series of driver.

  • SolidEther

    As I said before somewhere out there on this site or another?? Morphological anti-aliasing has its convinient purposes. IT can be used on some games to great effect. Games that rely on very crisp H.U.D. screens or rely heavily on fione text the filter process tends to blur the intricate items too much to ignore. However there are some titles like combat or racing games with larger on screen display items where a slight blur does not disturb the overall experience can allow a very efficient type of full screen AA with very low cost on total performance.

  • h0scHi

    MSAA or nothing. i dont like a blured image, a masssive peformance decrease or a crashing application.

  • jacky

    MSAA looks good/acceptable in NVIDIA cards only, AMD MSAA looks horrible with a lot of wavy lines which is indeed ugly especially when you are moving in a game. If you have AMD 7000 series use supersampling where possible, with NVIDIA cards set TrAA 8x + Coverage Samples to 8x.