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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Upgrading ATI Catalyst and Multimedia Center


That was my mantra during my attempt to upgrade my ATI All-in-Wonder Catalyst drivers to the newest version 6.5 and the ATI Multimedia Center to version 9.14.

First off, the ATI website is very unhelpful. They have a searchable database to find solutions to problems, but frequently their answers don't actually tell you how to fix the problem. I was pretty naive going into this whole thing assuming that a driver update would be straightforward and easy. But it wasn't, so I feel a moral obligation to share some wisdom here.

The Catalyst Driver and Multimedia Center Update:
ATI ungracefully uninstalled. The ATI products do not like to be uninstalled (or installed for that matter). ATI recommends uninstalling older versions of Catalyst and Multimedia Center before updating. I tried this, and I don't recommend it. I my case, it resulted in a sloppy uninstall which left pieces of ATI software hanging about in Program Files, All Users, and presumably elsewhere. Manual deletion of these folders was necessary to clean the slate.

Now I'm going to impart a piece of wisdom that was not obvious to me and caused several install/uninstall events: There are separate updates for the new Catalyst driver, the Multimedia Center, Remote Wonder, and other components. The Catalyst driver does not contain all the components that you probably installed from the CD eventhough the webpage suggests it does in the Release Notes. So, don't uninstall all of these other programs unless you are going to upgrade them all separately. The Catalyst download only contains 3 things: the ATI display driver, the WDM integrated drivers, and the Catalyst control center. When the Release Notes state:

The Catalyst® software suite 6.5 contains the following:
Radeon® display driver 8.252
Multimedia Center™ 9.14
HydraVision™ Basic Edition
Remote Wonder 3.03
WDM Driver Install Bundle
Southbridge/IXP Driver
Catalyst® Control Center Version 6.5

this is apparently ATI-speak for these are the programs that this download is compatible with.

Another giagantic man-eating-clam-sized pearl of wisdom: I naively thought that the 6.5 driver would work with an older version of MMC (9.06), but NO. You apparently have to have the driver and MMC that go together. They aren't mix-and-match. Putting a 6.5 driver with older versions of MMC will just cause you to go nuts when nothing works.

In my case, the initial uninstall of the old drivers and software left my computer so confused that I had to resort to using a restore point. To make things worse, the restore point failed and Windows would no longer start up in normal mode or safe mode at which point I did a gentle reformat to preserve my data, but it erased the registry so that all programs would have to be reinistalled. After backing up the data to an extra hardisk, I did a complete reformat.

Ok, so now the disk should be clean and installing Catalyst drivers should go well, there should be no confusion, right?

That's what I thought, unfortunately, 5 installations, 5 uninstallations, 3 upgrades, and 5 restore points later, Catalyst and Multimedia Center still do not work right. MMC 9.14 was almost unusable on my computer. The TV would not display the image and the sound was echoing, and I kept getting "overlay" errors. A few more reinstalls later to make sure that everything was correctly installed still did not result in improvements in MMC performance. The Catalyst 6.5 driver seemed to work okay however.

I unistalled again and rolled back to my original drivers and software. After a lot of internet research, I finally figured out that I would have to try each driver and its associated MMC version separately to find out which would work with my particular configuration. Fortunately, I finally found the semi-hidden ATI webpage of past Catalyst drivers and MMC versions (link for XP). Best I can figure, my original drivers are approximately equivalent to Catalyst version 5.3 which is coupled with MMC 9.06 and came out around the time that my drivers were created. I avoided MMC 9.14 this time since it performed so poorly before, and went for the Catalyst 6.4 driver which couples with MMC 9.13. Huzzah! So far this software pairing actually seems to work on my computer!

The final success was achived by writing Catalyst drivers 6.5 over my original drivers and then writing over that with the 6.4 download. Next, I uninstalled the old MMC and downloaded 9.13. Then I installed 9.13. Next I uninstalled Remote Wonder version 3.2 and downloaded the version 3.4 update and installed that. Now, at least I get a picture on the TV player.

Was it worth having to reformat?
After a few minutes of playing around with the new driver and MMC, I've noticed good, bad, and stuff inbetween.

The good: the Catalyst control center opens much faster than the old one. My start up times are much faster (probably in part due to the reformat). And the new version of Remote Wonder seems to crash less often.

The vaguely neutral: Catalyst driver performance. ATI releases a new driver every month, and the release notes for each driver contains an impressive list of supposed performance improvements since the previous driver. Frequently, ATI claims improvements of 20-30% for various games. Tweaktown has done a series of tests on the Catalyst drivers to compare ATI's claims of performance improvements with actual observed improvements during game tests. While they don't test the All-in-Wonder card or any hardware similar to mine, it is interesting that they've only seen ~3% performance improvement since Catalyst 5.3 and 5.12 on 3D Mark 03. I guess I'll have to wait and see if there's any improvement the next time I load up a game (that'll be once I get my poor reformated hardisk back to its normal configuration).

The bad: there are some design flaws. The TV-On-Demand can no longer be easily disabled. It can be disabled by going into the registry (or so ATI says, I haven't tried I because I value my sanity). This is a link to ATI's instructions for disabling TV-on-Demand. I haven't noticed much decrease in TV quality due to the TV-on-Demand constantly running (at least in MMC 9.13, but it may have contributed to the TV player's poor performance in MMC 9.14). The most annoying thing to me so far is this "Overlay" crap. Apparently, there can only be one video overlay. The problem with that: you can't have a TV clone at the same time as using the TV player. This is really annoying because you either cannot output to a TV anymore, or you manually have to go into the Catalyst control center and keep changing the status of the TV as a display. One more little annoyance: when the TV is in clone mode the video image in the File Player (or DVD) is not displayed on the TV screen. I did have some success when I changed the TV to full screen mode, but not when the window was smaller. This version of Catalsyt and MMC have severely crippled the utility of the TV output in my opinion. But, I'm going to stick with it because I'm not sure I want to go through all this install/uninstall crap again just to try out other versions of MMC without knowing what I'm going to get. One of the main problems with the drivers and software seems to be its unpredictability. One version will work fine for one person but completely stink for someone else. I have to agree with ATI when they say:

Installing a new driver is only recommended if you are having issues with your ATI product.

If you've got something that works, stick with it and consider yourself lucky!

Previous Posts: ATI Remote Wonder -- It's a Wonder When it Works!, ATI All-in-Wonder Out of Box Review (includes review of Catalyst drivers), ATI Multimedia Center Out of Box Review, and ATI: TV Leftovers (includes note on some weird icons and how to disable TV-On-Demand).

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1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU for taking the time to post all this. I only went partway thru all you did - and all I was trying to do was upgrade the driver for a ATI Mobility 9550 driver.

    I am now gonna have a completely different graphics card installed. The hell with ATI - I only just now found all the horror stories all over the net about driver installation issues. -an american living in Germany