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Saturday 14 August 2004

Hacking the frames [Lurks]

Doom 3 is out right, and that means that they'll be a few clannies and a few general readers of out there in Internet land that may just be considering upgrading their graphics card so they can play Doom 3 and Half-Life 2 at higher than slide-show frame rates. I've been looking into it, as well you might expect, and I've come to the conclusion that what you need is a brand new Alienware PC. Ho ho. Bah. :)

Well... Okay then, what if you're just going to upgrade your graphics card? We're looking for a bit more value than just buying the top of the range ATI X800XT or GeForce FX 6800 Ultra and after a bit of digging around and some experimentation, I believe I've hit on a solution which will essentially get you the ninja graphics card you always wanted, cheaper than it's going for in the shops.

The solution is to buy a Radeon X800 Pro card with VIVO capability. A card from Sapphire, Connect3D or Club3D is what we're talking about. This one is the one that I used in my tests. An X800 Pro is basically the X800 core with 12 pipes disabled and the core/memory speed clocked down a ways. Turns out that the video-in/video-out (hence VIVO) cards, have non laser-cut X800XT parts on them and they just have a protected bit of the BIOS which tells them to disable the other four pipes.

There's a good guide here but I'm going to walk you through it with just a single download. First of all, you wanna download this which is a zip file with all the stuff you need in it.

When you extract the zip file you've got a FloppyA and FloppyB directory. You're going to need two floppy disks, all very cunning eh. First off, bang in the first floppy and go into FloppyA directory and run the Flasher+Floppy2.37.exe file which will cut a bootable floppy with the ATI flasher on it. Then copy the X800XT.bin file onto that floppy. Exchange the floppy for a fresh one and go into the FloppyB directory. Click on the drdflash.exe which will cut a bootable floppy disk with a bare DrDOS on it. There's a subdir called Bios, copy everying in that over onto your floppy. Job done!

I'd recommend uninstalling all your vid drivers first. Download the latest Catalysts, right now there's some 4.9 betas with some bigger numbers in Doom 3 but I'm not linking those as they'll be outdated soon enough. Just hack those ready for an install. You could also, just to be sure, run the ATI catalyst uninstaller util from this page. You can't do the old uninstall drivers, install drivers and reboot trick, you'll b0rk ATI shit if you do that.

Now we're set to go ahead, make sure you've got your new X800 Pro VIVO card in your box. Boot up floppy A. Then;

flashrom -s 0 backup.bin

That's written out a backup of your card's BIOS in case it all goes horribly wrong. Now reboot and boot floppy B instead. Now we wanna do this;

gvf11 -p -f r80x256v.f1

This is Gigabyte's flash util and their X800XT BIOS and, strangely, they've released a tool which writes over a protected part of the BIOS which writes over a protected part of the BIOS which unlocks the extra four pixel pipelines that we would quite like, thank you very much. The thing is, we don't really want Gigabyte's BIOS though, we want ATI's default X800XT one. So reboot and boot FloppyA again and this time;

flashrom -p -f 0 x800xt.bin

Reboot. Windows will reckon you've got an X800XT. Install your new drivers if you haven't prior, otherwise you'll just need to walk Windows through finding the new graphics card. If you do that, you'll need a reboot before benchmarks because there's a start-up service which checks AGP speed and ups it to the maximum, otherwise it'll crawl.

How about some benchmarks on what this achieves? You got it! Doom 3 benchmarks are all in 1280 x 1024 because that's native for the TFTs most of us are using. Doom 3 timedemo is 'timedemo demo1' and scores are from second run in each instance.

    ATI Radeon 9800Pro
  • Doom 3 'Medium': 24.8 fps
  • Doom 3 'High': 22.9 fps
  • 3D Mark03: 5956 3d marks

    ATI Radeon X800Pro
  • Doom 3 'Medium': 37.1 fps
  • Doom 3 'High': 35.7 fps
  • 3D Mark03: 10164 3d marks

    ATI Radeon X800XT modded
  • Doom 3 'Medium': 47.0 fps
  • Doom 3 'High': 45.4 fps
  • 3D Mark03: 12274 3d marks

You might get some graphics corruption if your memory isn't good for XT default speeds in which case just flash back your original BIOS and the four extra pipes should remain open. Or run an overclocking utility and back the card off until it's happy. Enjoy!


  1. I assume a Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB would more than suffice for Doom3?

  2. Um, the frame rates are right there on this blog...

  3. The pitiful performance of the 9800 pro's what's put me off buying one. If I can't get native rez and decent performance out of a 150 quid card, I'll just have to wait till they're cheaper. Fucking 300 quid is the cost of three consoles!

  4. The 9800pro performance has been a bit of an eye opener. Carmack's clearly coded this for the next 4 years plus. I've seen in more than one place that Quake IV is not scheduled for release until 2006 "by which time the hardware should have caught up".

  5. I'm still an owner of a venerable GF4 ti4200, I've been holding off on a video card purchase until after the release of D3... and am I glad I did!For months I've been stewing in jealously at all the 9800XT owners with their uberFPS in everything, until D3 came out.Now I have a 6800 GT on order. Arrives tomorrow. Can't wait. w00t!

  6. Kavey has a 6800 GT but I think his box is a 486 so if he ran some numbers they wouldn't be very meaningful anyway. I went ATI in the end because the reality is that I'll be playing far more HL2-based stuff than Doom 3. Oh and the VGA waterblock for my Reserator doesn't fit Nvidia cards and ironically you really need it on Nvidia too, given the insane noise of that damn fan.There is a flaw with the numbers I've posted here too. The 9800 Pro numbers are actually the Ssoftmodded 4.7 drivers where as the X800 numbers are the 4.8 beta/Doom fixing drivers. So the 9800 Pro is getting a bit of a bum rap here. Realistically, add 15% to the 9800 Pro numbers. Still, you need 16-pipes to make Doom 3 run well in TFT native resolutions - whatever the vendor.

  7. for those without any dough the now fiddle with the settings. Great info and premade configs are all available here :'m determined to get 1 year out my 9600 pro!

  8. Geforce 4 ti4200 - 800x600# Doom 3 'Medium': 36.4 fps
    Done with AMD 2500+ running at 2Ghz - default is 1.8something.
    Wouldn't run playably in high detail so didn't bother benchmarking.
    Upgraded to Nvidia 6800GT
    6800 GT - 1280x1024# Doom 3 'Medium': 52.2 fps# Doom 3 'High': 51.2 fps
    Done with same overclocked 2500+....
    Last night my PC refused to boot, I came to the conclusion that I needed to rebuild it from scratch, with an AMD 64 chip - I ended up going for the 3000+ and an epox mobo.
    Now I get....
    6800 GT - 1280x1024# Doom 3 'Medium': 67.2 fps# Doom 3 'High': 52.8 fps
    I was really pissed off I couldnt play Doom3 all day, but now I'm a happy camper :)

  9. i have a radeon 9600 pro and a 2ghz processor how good can i run doom 3 and half life 2

  10. As good as you like