Catalyst Installation and Setup
Download the Catalysts
Go to this section of the ATi website and download the latest Catalysts. Enter your operating system, select Graphic Driver in the next box, and finally choose your graphics card from the list and click on the small red Go button. You'll be taken to the Driver Download screen which will have several options for downloading the latest Catalysts.
I recommend that regardless of your connection speed you download the full unified Catalyst package (the first option). It will save you from having to worry about which order to install the separate driver components, or whether to reboot in between each package as it will install everything necessary all at once. Note that at the time of writing, the latest Catalysts are version 3.9 and I would recommend at least this version to everyone with a Radeon if only for the numerous bug fixes over previous versions.
If for some reason you want an older driver version you can download them from the ATi site here (WinXP drivers only) or from this page at 3DChipset (for all versions of Windows).
Save the driver package(s) in an empty directory on your hard drive, e.g. C:\Documents and Settings\[Username]\Downloads.
Note that some people recommend the custom Omega Drivers as some sort of magical driver set which has no problems and only solutions. The truth is that while the Omega Drivers contain some nifty features, they are by no means necessarily faster or less problematic than the Catalysts on which they are based.
Install the Catalysts
This is fairly straightforward. If you downloaded separate driver packages, then install the ATi drivers first, reboot as requested, then install the ATi Control Panel next and reboot. If you downloaded the full package - which is what I recommend - then installation just involves launching the one package and rebooting when done.
Something to note - when the driver package prompts you for a directory at the start of the installation, this is the place where the driver files will be temporarily unzipped for installation purposes. It is not where the final drivers will be installed, and you should not install your drivers in the same directory as this temp folder or vice versa. You can leave the default location shown, or specify an empty folder of your own choosing. In any case make a note of where it was, and when your driver installation is all done (i.e. after reboots), you can safely delete this folder(s) and all its contents.
As usual, make sure to reboot every time you are prompted to. This may seem annoying, but it allows Windows to replace files which are currently in use.
Adjust Important Settings
For optimal performance and stability, you will need to adjust some very important settings in your ATI Control Panel. The ATI Control Panel is automatically installed if you used the single driver package. If you downloaded the ATI drivers separately, it is strongly recommended that you also install the ATI Control Panel as it has many useful features.
To access the ATI Control Panel, go to Control Panel>Display>Settings and click the Advanced button. The tips below should apply to every system setup regardless of taste in visual quality:
- General: Under Compatibility, select the "Apply the new display settings without restarting option" for most convenience.
- Monitor: Tick the check box on this tab, then select the highest Screen Refresh Rate available for maximum viewing comfort. See the Tidying Up section for more on Refresh Rate fixes.
- Troubleshooting: Make sure the Hardware Acceleration slider is at the far right, and tick the "Enable Write Combining" check box. Both will ensure maximum performance. Only adjust these again if you have specific problems and are actually troubleshooting.
- Options: If like me you don't have any use for the ATI Taskbar Icon you can safely untick the two options relating to the taskbar icon. I recommend you do so, as the feature uses resources (however small) and is unnecessary. The other options don't affect performance, however if you are not running a Digital Flat Panel (DVI) display, you should untick the two options relating to DVI operation.
- VPU Recover: A new feature introduced with the 3.8 Catalysts, VPU Recover is meant to prevent graphical lockups and crashes from causing reboots by catching them before they happen and recovering your system. However some people experience problems with this feature, and it is probably best left unticked. At the very least untick the Error Report option. If you keep having crashes or lockups, it is best to find the real cause rather than use VPU Recover to keep recovering from it.
- SmartGart: The settings under this tab affect both performance and system stability. To begin with, SmartGart is a feature which attempts to detect what it considers are the optimal settings for your system and shows them here. However generally speaking, the best settings for every system are the highest available AGP speed and Fast Writes set to Off.
To get your maximum AGP speed, make sure it is correctly set in the BIOS first. Next, make sure both your motherboard and graphics card are capable of the speed you want. For example if you run an AGP4x graphics card on an AGP8x capable motherboard, the fastest it will run is AGP4x and hence that's the most the slider will display. The same is true if you run an AGP8x card on an AGP4x motherboard. There is very little performance difference between AGP2x, 4x and 8x, however it is best to select the highest possible speed for your hardware setup unless you experience problems. In which case attempt to drop down one notch and see if this helps resolve the issue.
Fast Writes is a much misunderstood option. It sounds like something which would greatly affect performance, but nothing could be further from the truth. Fast Writes has actually been a great source of instability (especially on overclocked systems) since it was introduced, and provides virtually 0% performance difference On or Off. Suffice it to say that it is highly recommended you turn this off.
For more information on AGP speed and AGP Fast Writes, check the related entries in Rojak Pot's definitive BIOS Optimization Guide.
Once you've chosen your SmartGart settings, click Apply and reboot for them to take effect.
- Advanced SmartGart: There are some additional SmartGart performance settings you can alter, but they are not shown in the Control Panel. You'll need to go to Start>Run and type "SmartGart" (without quotes). This will bring up the Advanced SmartGart box with two sets of settings - PCI and AGP. If you have an AGP graphics card (and most recent cards are AGP), you can ignore the PCI options (and vice versa). Essentially all you need to do here is make sure that AGP Read is set to On and AGP Write is also set to On. There should be no reason to set either of these to Off except again for specific troubleshooting.
The remaining settings in the ATI Control Panel are based on your particular tastes for visual quality and performance for the most part, and won't be covered here. Note that you should pay particular attention to the Antialiasing and Anisotropic Filtering settings under both Direct3D and OpenGL as they can have very noticeable impacts on gaming performance. Refer to my recent The Simple Antialiasing and Anisotropic Guide for more details.
How much for a high-end Radeon graphics card?