Blame it on the X300, Part One

October 14, 2006

I have recieved several messages confirming that this problem also occurs on the Xpress 1100m IGPs as well as the 200m IGPs.

A couple of recent comments have specifically referenced the Acer 5102WLMI laptop which employs the newer (and supposedly FIXED) ATI Radeon Xpress 1100m. The 1100m is, for the most part, a rebranded 200m with higher clock frequencies. They are fundamentally the same, both based on the horribly flawed (aka sorry excuse for a GPU) Radeon X300SE. I have my reasons for feeling this way, simply read on.

I recently acquired a Radeon X300SE pciE video card to evaluate so I could get a good baseline as to what to reasonably expect performance-wise out of the 200m/1100m chips. Logically, a Xpress 200m/1100m is a X300 core with half the pipes, reduced clock frequencies (both memory and core) and a reduced memory bandwidth (64bit instead of 128bit, although some X300SE models only come with 64bit) On paper alone, the 200m/1100m should be somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of what the X300 is in terms of performance. 

Through my testing unfortunately, the picture has not turned out to be very pretty at all. The X300 all in all, is a horrible GPU. Where it appears to be most flawed is in OpenGL operations. In many benchmarks frame rates drop to as low as 3 frames per second where in comparable DirectX benches the frame rates are at or around 20.

One thing comes to mind here. Is it any real wonder why the X300 card was the only card of its generation to NOT be ported to a FireGL variant?

I am sorry that this has taken so long. When my research is completed I will post real numbers for all to see and evaluate for yourselves.


A BIG thank you goes out to Killersneak of DNA-Drivers for his effort

September 26, 2006

Recently I submitted several posts to people who specialize in “homebrew” ATI video drivers. Specifically, Omega, DNA, and DHZeroPoint.

Killersneak, of DNA drivers was kind enough to respond to my post and lend me some assistance on this issue. He was nice enough to re-release a reworked Catalyst 4.6.6.8 Beta. It has some memory optimizations specifically for the xpress 200m. I have always liked his drivers, and run them on more than one system.

You can access the forum post and the Beta driver link from here:

http://www.dna-drivers.com/forums.php?m=posts&q=1508

After installing his drivers, I did notice a performance substancial improvement, but nothing that can make KOTOR or any of the other OpenGL apps remotely usable. Killersneak did do a fantastic job, however, as performance improvements can be measured to be anywhere from 100-200 percent better in certain tests. Unfortunately for the xpress 200m, a one to two hundred percent increase is only about 1-2 additional frames per second. Given how bad the frame rates are, the performance gains need to be in the 1000s of percent range to make any real difference. I went into this fairly convinced that this is entirely a hardware limitation (aka Video FIRMWARE problem), but I wanted that final nail in the proverbial coffin.

Just to give you a notion of what kind of improvement is needed here, take the 1-2 frames per second performance we get now as a baseline. At 1fps. 100% better is 2fps. 1000% better = 10fps. 2000% better = 20fps = barely playable) On average an optimized driver can improve performance but definately not at the level that is needed here. This proves beyond most measure of doubt, that no amount of software optimizations or tweaks can help this problem. This means if it looks, smells, and walks like a duck… it is, well, a duck. Duck, in this case, meaning a Hardware issue.

Feel free to download the driver, some OpenGL benchmarking programs and give it a whirl for yourself. I have come to the conclusion that this is without a doubt, a video firmware issue. However, even with this amount of proof I doubt HP, or any other hardware manufacturer, will do much about it.


My Radeon Xpress 200m ordeal

July 7, 2006

 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.