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Turn your Radeon 9500 into a 9700

Preface:
First, I would like to say that portions of this article originated from a compilation of findings all over the internet. The mod, bench marking, and pictures were done or performed by the authors.My purpose here was to bring them all together into one definitive article. This article is aimed at those who want to squeeze every ounce of performance out of their components that were purchasedon a budget, and don’t mind taking the risk. Those that love to tinker. Those that want a foot-long sub for the price of a 6". Ok, you get the idea.

UPDATE:This article has been updated. Be sure to read the items marked "UPDATE:" BEFORE you attempt this mod. Also, a lot of people are emailing us andasking "What are my chances if I try this mod"? We have added a forum poll located here.

  What is it? This Mod will effectively turn your 9500 into a 9700. But you have to have the correct 9500. A 9500 with 4 rendering pipelines, modified to enable all 8 pipelines,will effectively double the memory bus, if you have the extra 64 M of memory to attach it to. We will explain below which card to acquire for this awesome graphics card transformation. Also, be sureto read “Things to Consider” before attempting this mod.

Why do it?
Well right now a 9500 costs between $150 and $175. The 9700 goes for $230 to $250 and the 9700 Pro goes for $275-$325. There is quite a difference in frame rates and fill rates between the 9500 and9700 Pro. Who wouldn’t want to get a $300 card for half the price?

Ok, first things first.
Which cards will accept the mod? Let us look at a chart concentrating on information of the different flavors. We didn’t list all of the specs on these cards; just the info that is pertinent to thisarticle.

  Radeon 9500 Radeon 9500 Pro Radeon 9700 Radeon 9700 Pro Our Modified 9500
(approximate)
Core Clock 275 Mhz 275 Mhz 275 Mhz 325 Mhz 340 Mhz
Memory Clock 540 Mhz
(270 x 2)
540 Mhz
(270 x 2)
540 Mhz
(270 x 2)
620 Mhz
(310 x 2)
600 Mhz
(300 x 2)
Memory Bus 128 bit 128 bit 256 bit 256 bit 256 bit
Rendering Pipes 4 8 8 8 8
Pixel Fill Rate 1.1 G Pixels/s 2.2 G Pixels/s 2.2 G Pixels/s 2.6 G Pixels/s 2.5 G Pixels/s
Peak Memory Bandwidth 8.8 GB/s 8.8 GB/s 17.2 GB/s 19.8 GB/s 19 GB/s

From the chart you can see that the one to mod is the 9500 128 M (non pro), since it has 4 rendering pipes. There is a 9500 64 M version, however, you cannot mod this one into a 9700. I believe thereason is because if you enable the extra 4 pipelines, there is no extra memory to attach them to, to make it 256 bit. The rest of the cards already have 8 pipelines, so there is nothing to enable.On the 9500 Pro, which has all 8 enabled, it effectively doubles the fill rate, but it still has only 128 bit memory bus. The reason is that the 9500 Pro has a different architecture layout from therest of the cards listed in the chart, and therefore cannot be modified into a 9700, and is stuck at 128 bit. Also notice the fill rate and memory bandwidth increases on the 9700 Pro due to theincreased memory clock.

As far as the video card memory is concerned, the lower the value (ns), the faster the ram. The board we purchased came with 3.3 ns Infenion ram, which should be excellent for over clocking.

For those who are confused by any of the above, just remember the one to get is the 9500 non-pro with 128 M of video ram.
UPDATE:
Thank you for all the positive feedback from this article. Upon some of your suggestions, I have indeed verified that there is a different version of 9500 non-pro, that has all ofthe memory chips in a straight line above the GPU. Reports confirm that the mod will not work on these boards. As ATI, and R300 board manufacturers create additional PCB layouts for this model, itwill be increasingly difficult to find the correct one. Take a look at the memory layout of the 9500 on the upcoming pages. The correct 9500 will have the memory in a L shape.
Things to consider: There is now a software mod to make the 9500 into a 9700. The makers of Riva Tuner have created a patch to enable the extra pipelines. You can download ithere. We will explain the software mod and how to make it work below. It would be beneficial to try the software mod first to see whether or not yourcard will get the “chessboard effect” (also explained below). For more information on the software mod, refer to the documentation that came with Riva Tuner.

There is also the discussion of where to just use the software mod instead of the hardware mod. Both have been verified to work, but here are some things to consider: First is performance between thetwo, which we will prove later on in this article. Second, the software mod will need to be done every time a driver update is done, which can be kind of a pain. Third, there may be a snippet of codein the next driver that will not allow the software mod. Which is easier? The software mod is by far easier to accomplish at first. We will make our suggestion on which route to take by the end ofthe article.   The hardware mod will definitely void your warranty.

The Chessboard Effect:
There are numerous reports of people successfully making the transformation, but only to find a chessboard artifact effect with displaying graphics. Here is a screen shot of one with thisproblem:

The only logical explanation is that the 4 pipelines that were enabled are faulty. Maybe ATI is selling 9700’s that didn’t pass QA as 9500’s. This is not really far fetched as other majormanufacturers have been doing this for a while now. Can anyone remember when the Celeron was released?

The Software Mod:
To accomplish the software mod, you are simply reinstalling the drivers. When you launch the Catalyst driver, it unpacks itself to a directory of your choice on your computer. Once it is finishedunpacking you can cancel the rest of the driver update operation. For the next step, you need the new version of Riva Tuner which can be found here.Once Riva Tuner is loaded, navigate to the power user page. Open the patch script for the 9700 mod located in the scripts folder. Make sure to point it to the folder where you unpacked the driverfiles from above. The ati2mtag.sys should now be modified to enable the rest of the pipelines. Next, open device manager and update the driver for the Radeon. Make sure you chose that you want tospecify your own driver, and select it from the list. Click on “have disk” and point it to the driver folder. That’s it!

Did it work? Well, lets find out. Run 3DMark and only select the fill rate test. If it worked, you should get multi-texture fill rate numbers associated withthe 9700’s, which is around 2200 M Pixels (2.2 G Pixels). If it didn’t work, your numbers should be around 1100 M Pixels (1.1 G Pixels), and you should try to repeat the procedure. If you wish tomanually put the patched file in the drivers folder look here.

The Hardware Mod:
First, you have to be absolutely out of your mind to do this mod if you do not have the right tools (and even still you have to be a little crazy). Here is a list of tools we used in this mod:

Small flathead screwdriver
Micro soldering iron
Very thin flux core solder
Tweezers (preferably a set that is long and curved)
Magnifying glass
CD
Goo-Gone
Thermal Paste
Good lighting is a must

Here is a shot of the Radeon 9500, before its awaiting fate:

The first step is to pull of the heatsink/fan. For cards that have a heatsink/fan that is attached with thermal adhesive, you may have to do some prying. I have heard putting the card in the freezeraids this task by making the adhesive brittle. For the Radeon cards that have ATI’s oem heatsink/fan with thermal tape, you first pull out the pins holding the spring posts to the board. Here is ashot with the pins out:

The heatsink/fan should then come off relatively easy with a little bit of twisting. Here you can see the tape on the backside:

And here is that beautiful R300 GPU.

Next, you will have to unsolder the resistor to the far left, located on the GPU in the picture below:

Think this is going to be easy? Think again. Here is a shot of that little resistor with some size comparison.

Yep that’s it right below the burn mark on my finger. The resistor slipped out of the tweezers and stuck to the soldering iron. In a desperate attempt to save the resistor, I grabbed it off the ironwith my fingers. If this thing would have stayed on the iron for more than a second, it would have burnt up. This is another reason why this mod is not for the faint at heart. Here is a shot of theresistor in the new location:


UPDATE: You do not have to do any solder-work with the resistor. Upon email advice and some more searching, it is apparent that you can leave the resistor in place. Simply connectthe top resistor contact to the contact directly above the resistor with conductive ink, being careful not to make contact with any other solder contacts. Here is a pic to illustrate the two pointsto connect:


Next, you have to clean the tape off the back side of the heatsink/fan. Next smear some thermal grease on the GPU for good heat conductivity.

Here it is, back in one piece again.

Now you must flash the Bios of the card with a 9700 Bios. You will need a copy of ATIFlash, and the actual bios file. Make a backup of your current bios, just for safe keeps. Here you can find a Hercules bios file that’s is hacked open for over clocking. Thanks Warp 11. and the ATIFlash can be found here. Make sure the bios is the one for the 9700 non-pro. Create a dos boot disk, boot into dos, backup, force-flash, and reboot.

Did it work? Run 3DMark with only the fill rate test selected. If it is using all 8 pipelines, you should see 2200 M Pixels in the multi-texturing test.

Benchmarks:
As we stated above, we ran benchmarks with both the software and hardware mod to see if there was a difference in performance. So, for each mod, we ran 3 benchmarks (2 DirectX, 1 OpenGL) in threeconfigurations – 9500 stock, 9500 w/8 pipelines enabled (same as 9700), and 9500 with 8 pipelines and over-clocked to approximate 9700 Pro specs (340 Mhz Core, and 300 Mhz Memory). Although mycard had 3.3 ns Infenion ram, we still couldn’t get it up to Pro memory speeds (just 10 Mhz shy). I suppose ATI is putting the 2.8 ns ram in the 9700 Pro version. For the Benchmarks, we chose theever popular 3DMark, Comanche 4, and for the OpenGL, we chose DronzeMark.

Computer used in the benchmarks:
1.4 Athlon T-Bird
512 MB PC2100 Cas 2 DDR
Raid 0 Ultra 160 SCSI
MSI K7T266 Version 2.0

SOFTWARE MOD:

9500 Stock Clocks: 9500 w/9700 Mod Stock Clocks: 9500 w/9700 Mod OC’ed @ 340c 300m
3DMark Score 9490 3D Marks 3DMark Score 10858 3D Marks 3DMark Score 11192 3D Marks
Comanche 4 Benchmark Results for
1024x768x32 FSAA=6 VSync=OFF
DXTC=ENABLED AUDIO=OFF
SHADERS=ENABLED
Frames per second: 29.02 avg
Tris per second: 6,008,422 avg
Comanche 4 Benchmark Results for
1024x768x32 FSAA=6 VSync=OFF
DXTC=ENABLED AUDIO=OFF
SHADERS=ENABLED
Frames per second: 33.53 avg
Tris per second: 6,667,997 avg
Comanche 4 Benchmark Results for
1024x768x32 FSAA=6 VSync=OFF
DXTC=ENABLED AUDIO=OFF
SHADERS=ENABLED
Frames per second: 33.69 avg
Tris per second: 6,709,411 avg
DronzeMark
137.48 fps
DronzeMark
156.12 fps
DronzeMark
156.62 fps

HARDWARE MOD:

9500 w/9700 Mod Stock Clocks: 9500 w/9700 Mod OC’ed @ 340c 300m:
3DMark Score 10524 3D Marks 3DMark Score 11004 3D Marks
Comanche 4 Benchmark Results for
1024x768x32 FSAA=6 VSync=OFF
DXTC=ENABLED AUDIO=OFF
SHADERS=ENABLED
Frames per second: 33.44 avg
Tris per second: 6,659,336 avg
Comanche 4 Benchmark Results for
1024x768x32 FSAA=6 VSync=OFF
DXTC=ENABLED AUDIO=OFF
SHADERS=ENABLED
Frames per second: 33.56 avg
Tris per second: 6,701,422 avg
DronzeMark
153.96 fps
DronzeMark
154.82 fps

Conclusion:
We would like to comment first on the higher scores with the software mod. For our bios flash we used a bios originating from the card manufacturer Hercules, which is different from the Sapphireflash that came with the card. I believe if we would have tried a few different types of Bios flashes, we would have achieved exact results.

It is apparent that the ram that came with our card is still not fast enough to achieve 9700 Pro memory speeds. Some investigating proved that the Pro cards have 2.8 ns ram, which is even faster andmore stable than the 3.3 ns Infenion ram that which our test card. However, the increased GPU clock (340 Mhz) over the Pro (325 Mhz) has concluded that our modified 9500 performs on par with the 9700Pro.

Here are some things to consider when deciding between the hardware and software mod.

The main conveinence for doing the hardware mod, is to alleviate the hassle of installing the driver patch. If you ever have to reinstall or update drivers, or move the card to a different machine,the software patch will need to be reinstalled. And some note should be made that Nvidia has made driver countermeasures toward the infamous Geforce to Quadro software mod. Who is to say that ATIcouldn’t do the same? The entire hardware mod can be done in 45 minutes or less, and no more time will ever have to be dedicated to achieving the mod. On the other hand, the hardware mod is risky,requires a steady hand, and a good bit of technical knowledge dealing with soldering and electronic component handling. Refer back to the size comparison of the resistor above if you are feelingbrave enough to try this. So in conclusion, if you don’t want the hassle of having to re-patch the drivers, have the tools and knowledge, and don’t mind losing the card from a soldering mishap, thenthe hardware mod is for you. If you want a quick easy solution that might require some maintenance in the future, then the software mod is for you. Performance between the two is not an issue.

Which ever route you take, be sure to use the software mod first to see if all pipelines are functional on your card.

We would like to thank the Russian site for initially discovering this mod, the author of Riva Tuner, and everyone else who contributed.

Tried the Mod? Enter your results here.

Bert Mathis / Jason Sims