Modified Catalyst Drivers

Ok we have all heard the "hype" now for quite some time regarding the tweaking and/or modifying of the official Catalyst Display Drivers. I am going to spend some time testing some of these drivers and compare them against their official counterparts. I will be running a series of benchmarks using a few of the more popular titles today. I am going to look at how different AA/AF settings affect speed, as well as what that performance loss does to enhance your overall image quality.

While there are several different authors of modified Catalyst drivers; I am going to concentrate on the two that I believe to be the most solid and offer the best install options to the end user. The two sets I plan to compare against the ATI Catalyst Drivers are Omega’s drivers and a joint effort called UniAN. Among those that I am not going to include are DNA, Forsage, and NGO. As many are now aware the NGO group has decided to team with Omega and concentrate on the OpenGL side of the drivers. Forsage I am excluding because they just offer a stripped down driver set without softmods or other options and the DNA drivers just because of all the controversy and unprofessionalism that seems to follow the author to forums all over the web.

I am also pleased to say that I will have a few questions that have been presented to Omega, to get his views on drivers, new video card technology and what we have to look forward to from him in the near future. Ok I can hear the cries now, this is going to be a "glorify Omega article" and I can say that is not the case. Due to the fact that I am tied to DriverHeaven as is Omega, it was a natural choice for me to feature his work, while not at the cost of producing biased results. If his drivers are the best, the results will represent that, if they are not, the results will represent that also.

Chaos: What is the most frustrating part of designing and releasing a new set of Omega drivers?

Omega: The first one I think is having to deal with bugs that are present on the original company drivers (these being ATI or NVIDIA) and trying to fix them with no programming knowledge, just by using the registry or swapping some files around.

The second most annoying thing is the big amount of testing and comparing against the previous driver sets, sometimes I spend hours just making changes here and there to make the drivers work like I want them to and after that, start looking for possible fixes to squash bugs that were present on a previous release (if there where any).

Chaos: How can you enlighten the end users as to what is involved in putting together a set of Omega Drivers and what do you think makes your drivers so popular?

Omega:
What I usually do is: (not exactly in this order)
a) Make a list of the problems found on my previous set so I can fix them on the new set.
b) Compare the original files (INIs, INFs, etc...) from the previous and new drivers to look for changes.
c) Modify the original INF, adding all my settings and tweaks to it.
d) Modify the DLLs to remove the overclocking protection (ATI), add the softmods to individual files (ATI) and remove other types of protections (NVIDIA).
e) Compile the Omega installer with new options (if any).
f) Test the setup and ATI drivers on 2 PCs - one with a 9700 Pro and one with an 8500.
g) For NVIDIA cards, I test them on another PC with a GeForce3 Ti4200

As for why my drivers are so popular, well, I have been doing this since the 3dfx days and I put a lot of love onto what I do because I like to help people, also, I don't go all around the web bragging about my drivers and forcing people to install them, a lot of people have came to know my work because they have heard how good my drivers are and sometimes big companies, like UBI, Activision, Alienware, Velocity Micro and others, have recommended my sets to users on their forums when they have problems with the original set.

Softmod Options

OK here’s the scoop on the softmods. It started for ATI cards back when they released their 9500/9700 line of video cards. What took place was during production some of the Radeon 9500 NP (4 pixel pipelines 256bit) cards were actually crippled Radeon 9700 cards (8 pixel pipelines 256bit). Thanks to people like Unwinder of Riva Tuner fame for developing a software patch that would remove over clocking protection and enable the remaining 4 pixel pipelines that were disabled during manufacturing on the cards that could be unlocked.

As can be expected the enthusiast community jumped on this and all of a sudden everyone was looking for a Radeon 9500 NP card that was designed with what is referred to as the “L” shaped memory configuration. I was fortunate enough to grab one of those cards myself and put together a brief review of the Sapphire version of the 9500 NP for DriverHeaven.

The most commonly used tool is Riva Tuner. What Riva Tuner offers is a “patch script” that you can use to modify any set of Catalyst Drivers. This feature came into prominence again when ATI released the 9800 SE cards, and the people that were successful, ended up with either a 9800 or 9800 Pro depending on the speed of the ram on their particular card. For those of you that are successful with the softmods you will enable the extra 4 pixel pipelines. Keep in mind that not all of the cards can be modded. Some of the cards have the extra pipelines disabled due to the fact that they were damaged in some way. If your card displays onscreen pixel corruption that looks like a checkerboard pattern, that card should not be modded.

Installation of SoftMod (Win2k/XP only) with Rivatuner:

  • Select Power User
  • Click on the Open Patch Script button
  • Browse to: /PatchScripts/ATI/SoftR9700/
  • Open and execute the scipt, You MUST agree to the license!
  • Hit continue and point the script towards thge spot where ati2mtag.sys is located and patch it. You normally find this file in the windows/system32/drivers/ folder
  • Restart and start benchmarking

What you Bought What you got What you end up with
Radeon 9500 NP 64 MB 4 128 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9500 Pro
No OC Protection
8 128 bit pixel pipelines
Red PCB 9500 NP

"I" shaped memory
4 128 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9500 NP
No OC Protection
4 128 bit pixel pipelines
Black PCB 9500 NP

"I" shaped memory
4 128 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9500 NP
No OC Protection
4 128 bit pixel pipelines
Black PCB 9500 NP

"L" shaped memory
4 256 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9700 Pro
No OC Protection
8 256 bit pixel pipelines
Red PCB 9500 NP

"L" shaped memory
4 256 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9700 Pro
No OC Protection
8 256 bit pixel pipelines

What you Bought What you got What you end up with
9800 SE with 9800/9800
PRO layout
Molex connector
4 256 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9800/9800 Pro
No OC Protection
8 256 bit pixel pipelines
Red PCB 9700/9700 Pro
Floppy style connector
"L" shaped memory
4 256 bit pixel pipelines Radeon 9800/9800 Pro
No OC Protection
8 256 bit pixel pipelines
Red PCB 9800 SE

"I" shaped memory
4 128 bit pixel pipelines 9800 SE
No OC Protection
4 128 bit pixel pipelines
Black PCB 9800 SE

"I" shaped memory
4 128 bit pixel pipelines 9800 SE
No OC Protection
4 128 bit pixel pipelines
AIW 9800 SE

"L" shaped memory
4 256 bit pixel pipelines AIW 9800 Pro
No OC Protection
8 256 bit pixel pipelines

Charts above are based on material from ocfaq with some alterations made with omegas input

As you can see from the tables above there are some excellent gains available to the end user who is successful with the softmod procedure.

Chaos: With the launch of the ATI X800's and NVIDIA's 6800 what do you consider the most interesting new development, and who do you see leading they way?

Omega: Both cards show good potential and looking at the benchmarks all around the net, both cards seem to be almost equal in performance, with NVIDIA taking an advantage in the OGL and ATI in D3D, especially in Dx9 games that are shader intensive.

Right now I see that ATI's card is leading this round (again) against NVIDIA's offering, many developers are concentrating more on D3D than in OGL, but with a major OGL game release this year, Doom 3, I think ATI is going to put A LOT more of their efforts on improving their OLG driver and at least pair, if not, surpass NVIDIA on their own OGL territory.


Chaos: We all know that you recently launched a new website design and moved the hosting to a new server, what prompted you to make this move to a new server?

Omega: Err… Do I have to answer this? j/k

Well, mainly because I have looking into being independent for some time, I don't like to be a burden for anyone and I like to be able to do whatever I want, when I want it (this is not related to anyone on DH, I have never had problems with anyone in DH, is just my personal feelings), so, since my site was running of DH's server, I had to keep DH ads and pop-ups on my site to help Allan (Zardon - Driverheavens owner) pay for the site's Bandwidth, but like everyone else, I hate ads and pop-ups, so in order to remove them from my site I had to make a hosting change, it would have been unfair to keep using the DH server without sponsoring and lending out a hand to Zardon.

Also, I'm in a very tight economic situation, if I wanted to put my own ads to collect some revenues, I was being rejected by ad companies since my site was already displaying ads from other companies

Chaos: What was the reasoning behind changing to a .net domain?

Omega: Well, when I first registered my first domain, omegacorner.com, the name was used because the name of my original site was "Omegadrive's Little Corner", and I choose an easy to remember domain name, after a while I decided to change the name of the site to Omegacorner.com, but still, I was not still happy with the name of the site, since the domain name was not perfectly related to my work and people had problems to remember the name, so I though it was time to change it.

Originally, I wanted to buy 2 domain names, omegadrivers.com and omegadrivers.net, but when I did a search to see if the domain name was available, I found out some DUDE already bought the domain omegadrivers.com and he was asking for a good amount of money for it. As you already know, my work is free, so I can't afford to pay for the domain name, but lucky me, he didn't bought the .net also, so I had to go for .net instead.

Chaos: What is your impression of your current competitors in the driver modding scene and on what do you base your opinions?

Omega: Well, at least for me, the first rule to be a successful driver modder, must be the true desire of helping the gamer's community and not to compete with the original driver company or others.

I don't know if other driver modders understand this, but this is NOT A GAME or a COMPETITION, video drivers control more than 50% of a PC's functionality, with no video, you can't do much on a PC, and with an incorrectly done video driver or registry entry on those drivers, you can wipe an entire PC and in very rare occasion, damage the hardware. I take this task very seriously, that's why my own PC is my main test rig, I can't afford to release a driver set untested just to find out through some e-mails later that the user's PC no longer works or that they had to do a full reformat and lost data because my drivers screwed up their PCs.

Currently, the ONLY driver modder that I see is doing an excellent job is UniAN, they provide a good installer, haven't heard much problems from people using their sets and they do their own original work and investigations (hehe, that sounds much like a promotion of my drivers ;-P ).

I would like to thank Omega for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule and answer the questions that I presented to him and wish him all the best with his new website.

 

Next: The Drivers

 

Click here to go to application and install page Click here to go to pcmark2004 page Click here to go to the results page Click here to go to the conclusion page

 
Click here to go to application and install page Click here to go to pcmark2004 page Click here to go to the results page Click here to go to the conclusion page