Here is my story.
Back in November of 2005 I bought a HP zv6270us laptop. A truly awesome machine. Athlon64 3500+, 1Gig ram, 100GB of HDD space, built-in everything but the kitchen sink, and a ATI mobility radeon xpress 200m with 128MB of dedicated Video memory (this made me salivate if I recall.) A friend of mine has a laptop with an integrated intel gfx chip, which supposedly is not even 1/2 of what the 200m is and he can play KOTOR1 & 2 just fine. As with everyone else, my laptop plays these games at about 1-2fps. The character models are very distorted (blacked out eyes, real jagged edges)… all in all, just plays like absolute doodoo. I have tried everything… omega drivers, old drivers, new drivers… nada. Kind of sad actually.
After doing a lot of thorough research and testing to try and get KOTOR1 & 2 to run I finally gave up. I will begin with what it is not before going into what he problem really is. …
Lucasarts has said that they do not support any gfx chips that use shared memory. I’ve seen people with integrated intel and SiS chips run the KOTOR series fine. They don’t support it… but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Besides, in my particular case I do not have shared memory… its dedicated. But the 200m has the same issue regardless of the type of memory… (I’ve tried both) therefore it is not a shared memory issue.
The 200m chip is, more or less, an x300 chip with half the pipes. (2 instead of 4 I believe) Even so, while running many directx games it performs at or near what one of my old desktops ran with a 9600SE a couple of years back… which is just slightly better than a 9000. So as a baseline I say the 200m is right at or very near +/- the performance of a 9600SE. A friend of mine played through and beat KOTOR 1 with an old radeon 7200… which is inferior to the 9000 which is in turn inferior to the 9600se/200m. So using that comparison, the 200m should play (at least) KOTOR 1 just fine. By no means am I saying that the 200m is a great chip… but it can impress when tweaked properly. I play WoW and FF11 on it quite frequently and it does fine. So… if it can play games that demand more hardware than KOTOR… it’s not a lack of gfx power on the 200m’s part that is causing this issue either.
Now you know what it’s not… on to what it IS…
The problem has to do with the driver and it’s (lack of) OpenGL performance. This is 100% a driver issue. The 200m handles most directx games just fine. But it has very VERY piss poor OpenGL performance. There are several OpenGL games besides the KOTOR series that run at the same 1-3fps. Adobe After Effects is unusable with this card when you use the OpenGL interface… so are many other gfx related apps as well. This chip cimply chokes hard on anything that uses OpenGL. Unfortunately, the Omega drivers do not address OpenGL related issues on the 200m so the ONLY way this gets fixed is if ATI fixes this issue by fixing the drivers to properly support OpenGL on these chips…. …However, ATI does not officially support this gfx chip on their website. The newest Catalyst drivers do not support the 200m, nor do the IGP drivers support this either. The offical word from ATI is to contact the system manufacturer for updated drivers… which in my case the last update was 12/2005… which puts me somewhere near S-O-L. As most people who buy laptops know, manufacturers sunset their products so fast driver updates are rarely available other than the ones that were originally available with the system. It puzzles me to think that ATI has effectively turned their back on this chip. Brand new laptops (I saw an ad for a new Asus brand with a Turion64 X2 due out very soon) are being built with these chips. There are a lot of these chips out on the market, and more are being sold everyday… but yet ATI refuses to support it.
To that I say WTF… it makes no sense.
So there you have it. Driver issue + No driver support through ATI = we be f***d
There are a few alternatives though. You could attempt to find newer drivers for this chip through various manufacturer’s websites. Asus, MSI… more or less any manufacturer that uses A64/200m combinations. You could get lucky… although so far I haven’t… but yet again I really haven’t looked too much. I have also heard rumors (although unconfirmed) that notebooks that use A64 chips (HPs especially) that run the performance crippled ddr333, notice a quite substancial improvement in gfx performance with the 200m by switching the memory to ddr400… if your notebook mobo supports it. Whether this would help with KOTOR or not… I do not know. I have some laptop parts on order (1gig ddr400 and a 7200rpm drive) and although I did not order these parts to fix this issue specifically… if it does help I will update this post.