The intention of this FAQ is to answer some of the many questions we see being asked in our forums. Our current thread for this mod is 10+ pages long. If you do not see your question here, you can ask it in our forums, and it will be posted here in the future for other users.
Any opinions stated in this article are the expressed opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Digital Trends. Digital Trends will not be held responsible for any damage done to any peripheral or computer component if the reader decides to attempt this mod. All copywrited/trademarked names/information belong to their original respective owner. This article has been created using a compilation of information readily available on the internet, and information gathered by the author during the process experimentation. Ok, with that being said, lets get on to the FAQ.
1. What is this 9500 to 9700 mod and how does it work?
Basically, the mod opens up features in the card that were locked down by ATI.
To understand how it works, you have to know a little bit of back ground first. For a huge company like ATI to be successful, they have to cover the high, medium, and low end video card categories. When the ATI R300 GPU (the cpu of the ATI 9700 series cards) was released, they more than covered the high end category. But what about mid and low end cards? It would make sense to detune the R300 to cover these left out categories. Detuning the card instead of creating an entire new gpu obviously saves money during the manufacturing process.
So here’s the flavors of the R300 GPU in order of performance:
ATI 9700 Pro – The GPU is clocked at 325Mhz, 8 rendering pipelines, 256 bit memory bus, memory is clocked at 310 Mhz
ATI 9700 – The GPU has been detuned to 275Mhz, still 8 rendering pipelines, 256 bit memory bus, memory has been detuned to 270Mhz
ATI 9500 Pro – The GPU is clocked at 275Mhz, 8 rendering pipelines, card is detuned to 128 bit memory bus, and memory is at 270Mhz
ATI 9500 – The GPU is clocked at 275Mhz, 4 rendering pipelines cut out to leave 4, 128 bit memory bus, and memory is at 270Mhz
The mod will only work with the 9500 non-pro. It opens up the extra 4 pipelines to double the memory bus. After the mod, your card has the following specs: GPU clocked at 275Mhz, 8 rendering pipelines, 256 bit memory bus, and a memory speed of 270Mhz. Does this look similar to the specs of one of the cards in the list above? Yes, the 9700.
2. What types of 9500 will accept the mod?
Only a 9500 non-pro with the 9700 series PCB (printed circuit board) will work. Some have tried to break this down to only the ones with the L shape memory configurations, and so on, but as manufacturers change the PCB in the future, these rules may not apply. The only real way to know to compare your 9500 to the 9700 PCB side by side. Here is an example of a 9500 with a 9700 series PCB:
The PCB does not have to be red. There are black PCB’s out there that are identical to this layout that will accept the mod.
3. What mod (software/hardware) is best for my situation?
First, lets explain what each is. The software mod is included with the latest version of RivaTuner. Much appreciation goes out to Alex Unwinder for creating RivaTuner. Basically, you use a portion of RivaTuner to patch one of the files included with ATI’s Catalyst driver. Once the file is patched, you reinstall the driver with the patched file. The patched driver file will force the 9500 to use all 8 pipelines. Now lets talk about the hardware mod. The hardware mod is explained in detail in an article that can be found here on Digital Trends under the “Computer Guides” section. Basically, you are moving one of the tiny resistors on the GPU to force open the extra 4 pipelines.
Which one to use? They both accomplish the exact same thing. However, there are some pros and cons to each.
Hardware Pros – The mod is permanent. Once the mod is done, you no longer have to apply a driver patch.
Hardware Cons – The mod cannot be undone without resoldering the resistor.
Software Pros – The mod can be tested for “artifacts” (explained below) without committing to a permanent mod
Software Cons – The mod will have to be reapplied with every driver change. A new driver release may disable the mod.
The correct route to take is to apply the software patch first to test for artifacts, then apply the hardware mod if you want to commit to the change.
4. Will it void my warranty?
Software mod will not, because you are not altering the card in any way, only the drivers. You better believe the hardware mod will.
5. What are there artifacts I keep reading about?
There is a lot of speculation on why this happens. Here is my own opinion. Lets say a 9700 doesn’t meet up to QA standards, and the card doesn’t function correctly with all 8 pipelines enabled. Do you toss out the card? No, you detune it to work with 4 pipelines. This is an excellent way for ATI to cut costs and still cover more than one product categories like we discussed above. To keep up with 9500 card demands, some cards that have have no flaws at all are used for the 9500’s series. This is why when we enable all 8 pipelines on these cards, we get no artifacts at all. Then on the other hand, some are producing artifacts when all 8 pipelines are enabled. These are obviously ones that did not pass QA. Artifacts are simply “garbage” on the screen. Garbled code that does not execute correctly somewhere along the data path. On some cards artifacts rarely happen. On others they are so prominent that the modding user will have to change back to a 9500. This is why you perform the software mod first, to see how bad, if at all, the artifacts are when your card is modded.
6. What is a bios flash and do I need it?
Warp11 has found the registers in the card’s bios that can be altered to allow overclocking of the GPU and memory. You can flash your bios with one of these altered bios files, to overclock your own card. Here we must discuss a few things about overclocking these cards. Since the GPU is the same on all R300 cards, you should be able to get at least 9700 Pro GPU speeds. Now the memory is a different situation. There are different types of memory makes and speeds used on these cards. The 9500’s will usually have 3.6ns(ns=nanosecond) or 3.3ns ram. The 9700’s will usually have 2.8ns ram. Usually the rule of thumb is the faster and better make of the ram, the more likely it is to overclock. So don’t expect to get 9700 Pro memory speed’s out of the 9500’s unless you were lucky enough to get one with the better memory chips on it. The one we tested had 3.3ns ram and could only do 300Mhz without artifacts, however, we could get the GPU up to 340Mhz with the stock cooler, and 370Mhz with even better cooling. This made our card perform on par or better than a 9700 Pro. Not bad for a card that’s half the price eh?
7. How can I overclock my card?
Here again we use the excellent versatility of RivaTuner. The utility will have a section where you can adjust the clock speeds of both the memory, and GPU. Your BIOS must be unlocked though. If it is not, read #6 for instructions on flashing your bios.
8. I flashed my card and now it just gets a black screen. What do I do now?
Well this is unfortunate because you will usually get this on cards that were not meant for the mod. You will have to put a pci card in so you can boot your machine, then reflash with your old bios (you did make a back-up before flashing didn’t you?). Reports have come in that some will not reflash. I have not come across a fix yet for this, however, when I do I will post it here. Update: A couple of our active forum members, Cereb and Nomad, have figured this out. Using a different flash utility will flash the file correctly. Here is a link to the thread, and here is a link to either the self extracting boot disk executable or the rar file with the files inside. Thanks go to Cereb and Nomad for working together to figure this out.
9. How can I tell the mod worked?
Download 3DMark01 if you havent already. Only run the fiillrate test. Under the multitexture test, you should be getting 2200+ M texels if all 8 pipelines are enabled. Half this if the mod didnt work.
10. Where can I find more info on this mod?