ATi Catalyst Installation Guide

The simplest of tasks can often be the most important. As is the case, we take a look at the correct methods of ATi Catalyst graphics card driver installation and tidying up.
| Nov 5, 2003 at 11:00 pm CST
Manufacturer: none

Catalyst Installation - Introduction

IntroductionA little over a year ago nVidia ruled the graphics card roost and ATi was starting to release some interesting though somewhat problematic hardware and drivers. Fast forward a year later and ATi is now considered to be on top in the graphics hardware stakes, and the ATi "Catalysts" have rapidly matured into a very stable and well-performing driver set.Given the general criticism of ATi drivers in the past, the Canadian company has taken great pains to genuinely improve the Catalysts, and now releases a new WHQL certified driver set every month - typically packed with bug fixes, performance improvements and new features.With that kind of introduction, you'd think I'm on ATi's payroll...of course I'm not (but I am open to offers). Yes, I am the proud owner of a Radeon 9800 Pro, but I'm not blind to the many people still making their frustrations known at problems they're having with their ATi hardware. These people often lay the blame squarely on the Catalysts.I however strongly believe that the vast majority of these problems are caused by badly installed drivers, driver "residue" and poorly configured settings both during and after setup. Yes, that's right, I'm blaming you! But don't worry, I've written this quick guide to take you step by step through the best method for doing a so-called "clean install" of the Catalysts, and the associated steps in minimizing potential driver-related problems. I know some of you may doubt me, but the truth of the matter is that from my own personal experience I know that there are virtually no problems with the recent Catalysts or ATi hardware - most of it is related to driver setup.
How much for a high-end Radeon graphics card?

Catalyst Installation - Removal & Cleanup

Catalyst Removal & CleanupTake PrecautionsAny time you're about to install a new driver or make a major system change, unless you feel 100% confident in your own abilities (or you like to gamble Vegas-style) then use System Restore if it's available to you. Making a restore point prior to installation of a driver or new application means that if things go haywire, you can simply use the restore function and everything is back in one piece. I also urge you to use System Restore if you're going to use one of the more "tricky" tweaks in this guide like editing the registry or removing old devices from Device Manager. Pretend you're a Boy Scout and be prepared.Before Going FurtherIf you previously had another brand of video card in your system on the current installation of Windows, it is strongly recommended that you reformat your drive and reinstall Windows for optimal performance and stability. Many people have had issues which resulted from switching from nVidia to ATi, and vice versa, on an existing installation of Windows. There are tips in here to help remove traces of old devices such as previous graphics cards from your system, but nothing beats a clean install of Windows.Another common source of problems which is often overlooked is not installing the latest motherboard chipset drivers. Whether the Intel INF drivers, VIA Hyperion 4-in-1's, or SiS AGP Drivers, these chipset drivers control the way in which your AGP port "talks" to your graphics card. The correct recent chipset driver will resolve a great many of problems, especially where your AGP speed is set below optimal or is Off altogether.Finally many, many problems you may have with your ATi graphics card are actually related to your settings in Windows. You need to optimize such settings to make sure everything is being used efficiently and correctly. Read my walkthrough Windows guide WinXP Tweaking: From Reformat to Relax to make sure everything is in top shape in that department.Ok I can feel your A.D.D kicking in, let's move on quickly.Remove Old DriversThe simple act of continually installing various versions of Catalysts back and forth on many systems has probably left a mess in the registry and on your hard drive - the most common source of problems. Below are the steps necessary to clean out all traces of the Catalysts and get ready for a "clean install" of the latest drivers:Step 1: Uninstall Catalysts - As of the 3.8 Catalysts onwards, ATi has included a nifty utility call the ATI Software Uninstall Utility. This should remove all traces of ATi drivers and software on your system, but unfortunately it doesn't quite do the full job. However it is still worth using as the first step in your "clean install" preparations.Go to Control Panel>Add or Remove Programs and look for the entry "ATI - Software Uninstall Utility". Click on it and select the Change/Remove button. You will be presented with a prompt which asks you if you want to remove all ATI software. If you choose OK it will commence uninstallation of everything related to ATI. This should get rid of the bulk of ATI driver and control panel software, but note that it will also attempt to remove any ATI demos you have installed. Pay careful attention to the prompts presented during this process if you want to keep the demos on your system. Once the utility is done, reboot as requested.
Alternatively, if you have an older version of the Catalysts, simply go to Control Panel>Add or Remove Programs and first click on the ATI Control Panel entry (if it exists) and click the Change/Remove button and select Remove in the next screen. Once it's uninstalled, reboot as requested and go through the same procedure for the ATI Display Driver entry and reboot.Note that on reboot your Windows may detect your graphics card as a new device and attempt to look for drivers to install. Make sure you cancel all such attempts.Step 2: Delete Leftover Files - You may have seen utilities which claim to clean up driver residue - the leftover components of previous drivers. Well that would be perfect, except that often the graphics companies change the architecture of their drivers, which in effect means the driver cleaner can miss new portions of drivers. The best way to clean up driver residue is to get in and get your hands dirty and do it manually.To physically remove any remaining ATI files, go to Windows Explorer and look for entries beginning with "ATI..." under your \Windows\System32 and \Windows\System32\Drivers directories and delete them. You may notice that certain files keep recreating themselves. Don't worry, these are just the default XP drivers which are protected and can't be permanently deleted. Just delete all the ATI driver files and let XP decide which default files the system should keep. Do not delete the files under the \ServicePackFiles directory, or under game or application specific directories (e.g. \Program Files\UT2003\Textures). Just stick to the two directories mentioned above.Next delete the entire program folder(s) where you installed the Catalysts. The default install location is C:\ATI\... and/or C:\ATI Technologies\... but if you chose another location when installing, go there and delete the folder and all its contents.Step 3: Remove Registry Entries - This is the part which the ATI Uninstall utility often misses (likely on purpose) - removing ATI registry entries. There are two ways to remove these entries: using Windows Registry Editor or RegCleaner. The most thorough method is to use RegCleaner.- RegCleaner is a free small utility which can be downloaded from here. Once installed, run it and look under the Software tab. Scroll down to all entries related to "ATI Technologies" and place a tick in the box next to each entry. Then click the Remove Selected button and they'll be removed from your registry. For more details on the many other useful features of RegCleaner see my WinXP: From Reformat to Relax guide.
- To remove the entries using the built in Windows Registry Editor, go to Start>Run and type "Regedt32" (without quotes) and press return. Next, click on the + sign next to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, and then the Software subentry, and scroll down to the "ATI Technologies" and "ATI Technologies Inc". entries. Right-Click on each folder and select Delete to remove them. Note that this method is not as thorough as using RegCleaner, which finds other hidden ATI-related entries.Step 4: Remove Old Unused Devices - This is a trickier step and can be skipped if you don't feel comfortable doing it. If you had several Catalysts installed on your system, or even an nVidia card installed previously on the same Windows install (not recommended), not to mention any other previous items of hardware which you no longer use, then this tip lets you remove them from the registry.To view unused devices in Device Manager, do the following:- First open a Command Prompt by going to Start>Run and typing "cmd" (without quotes). Once the MS DOS prompt is open, type the following lines, pressing return after each:Set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1Devmgmt.msc- In the Device Manager window that opens go to the View menu and select "Show Hidden Devices". Now start looking through all the devices. Devices in grey are usually old/unused and safe to remove by right clicking on each one and selecting "Uninstall".
- In particular, you might find several entries under the Monitors section. You can typically delete all the greyed out entries but at least one un-greyed entry should remain. You may also find old entries for previous graphics cards under the Display Adapters section which again can be removed. Remember that even with only 1 monitor connected there are usually two entries for Radeons, one of which is the Secondary. This is normal.Again you should make absolutely certain the device is no longer physically on the system, and that you should not remove any Microsoft devices such as those under the Sound section. Use this tip with great caution. Use System Restore and ideally, if you've switched graphics cards you should have done a full reformat/reinstall of Windows in any case.With all the registry changes and file alterations, a reboot is a good idea. Now you should be ready for the next section which is the correct installation and optimal setup of your Catalyst drivers.How much for a high-end Radeon graphics card?

Catalyst Installation - Install & Setup

Catalyst Installation and Setup
Download the CatalystsGo 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 CatalystsThis 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 SettingsFor 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?

Catalyst Installation - Tidying Up & Conclusion

Tidying UpThere are some loose ends which need to be tied up after all of the previous information. These are outlined below:Step 1: Disabling ATI Services - This step involves disabling the somewhat useless Service entries that the ATi drivers activate. To see what I mean, go to Start>Run and type "Services.msc" (without quotes). Now look at the list of Services and two new entries have been added - ATI Hotkey Poller and ATI Smart.
The ATI Hotkey Poller service is only needed if you use the ATI Hotkey settings available in the ATI Control Panel. If you don't use these (and most don't) you can safely double-click on this service and select Disabled under the Startup Type box. Note: I've been told by 9800XT owners that disabling this service can also disable the Overdrive tab in the ATI Control Panel. If you run an XT card, and you can't see the Overdrive tab then re-enable this service.The ATI Smart service is a bit more vague, as it is not needed for ATI SmartGart settings (in the Control Panel) to work. It seems to continually detect system conditions and adjust settings if needed to maintain stability, but in effect it's just a useless resource hog. I highly recommend disabling this service as well - I have experienced no negative impacts by doing so.These services will be removed from memory after the next reboot.Step 2: Refresh Rate Fix - Windows XP and Windows 2000 have an issue in which the screen refresh rate - the number of times your monitor can redraw images per second - is locked at 60Hz for every resolution. This is far too low, as most monitors can easily exceed this refresh rate, especially at lower resolutions. Most people notice a flickering effect with a 60Hz refresh rate, and it is indeed unhealthy for your eyes (which can detect differences up to 200Hz or more) to view for long periods.Strangely, neither Microsoft nor the graphics card manufacturers have resolved this problem. The best solution is to manually force Windows to use the highest possible refresh rate at every resolution your monitor supports.
The surest way to do this is with a Refresh Rate fix, such as Refresh Force. Download this small utility and run it (launch ReForce.exe). Just click the Auto Populate button and it will detect the correct maximum possible refresh rates for each supported resolution on your monitor. Click the Apply button and the fix is done! You need to use this utility again every time you install a new driver, so keep it handy.Another method for manually overriding the 60Hz lock on refresh rates is to use the Refresh Rate Override feature available under the Displays>Attributes tab of the ATI Control Panel. I personally recommend Refresh Force rather than this method, but the choice is yours.Step 3: Defragment - A final step which is often overlooked is the need to defragment your hard drive after installing/copying/deleting an application, game, driver, large file - you name it. Any time files are added or deleted your hard drive can become "fragmented" meaning portions of the one program may be spread over several physical areas of your hard drive. This reduces drive speed and is unnecessary. So once you're done with all the driver deletion/installation/tweaking, go to Start>Run and type "Dfrg.msc" (without quotes). Then click Defragment and leave it to steadily defragment all your files. Do this regularly, but especially after driver changes and game installations.
ConclusionThere you go; I somehow managed to pull four pages out of my hat on what seems like a simple topic. The need for so many instructions is quite simply because if you follow these procedures, along with reading my XP guide and updating all your drivers in general, you should have virtually no problems with your ATi hardware. As I said, my personal experience has been literally no reboots, crashes or freezes since Catalyst 3.4, and both great performance and image quality. Take the extra 10 minutes each time you want to change Catalysts and it will reward many times over.Of course if your system is not well maintained, you overclock components a great deal without proper stress testing, you simply install various versions of drivers over each other, or switch graphics cards without a reformat/reinstall than quite honestly be prepared for problems. Hope you found this guide useful, and if you have any feedback as always just click my name at the top of the guide and shoot me an email!How much for a high-end Radeon graphics card?

Last updated: Apr 7, 2020 at 12:25 pm CDT

PRICING: You can find products similar to this one for sale below.

USUnited States: Find other tech and computer products like this over at

UKUnited Kingdom: Find other tech and computer products like this over at

AUAustralia: Find other tech and computer products like this over at

CACanada: Find other tech and computer products like this over at

DEDeutschland: Finde andere Technik- und Computerprodukte wie dieses auf


We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.