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Custom drivers, what you should know..

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  • Graphics Cards
  • Drivers
  • Graphics
Last response: in Graphics & Displays
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October 26, 2003 2:46:19 AM

I tried out Omega's drivers a while back, and that's when I realized what the drivers actually are. The Omegas are actually nothing but the standard ATi-programmed and compiled driver code as found in the Catalysts (same is true for nVidia Omegas.) The difference is that in the Omega driver sets Omega Guy mixes and matches driver file components from differing driver versions, according to his own personal preferences and formula. The rest of the differences in the drivers are all accomplished by making text changes to the install .inf that comes with the standard drivers. In other words, what the Omega's actually are is a set of "repackaged" standard driver files made from more than one set of an IHV's officially released drivers, with a customized install .inf file (written in text as per the standard .inf format) which he sets up to do simple scripts and things, such as his "softmod" scripts.

You or I sitting at home could do the very same thing since it has nothing to do with changes to the driver's source code in any manner. To be fair, the Omega Guy right on his site has never claimed to actually code any of the drivers he distributes since he started doing his thing, and has always truthfully stated that what he does is simply repackage the standard IHV driver sets into custom groups of files--an Omega driver set "based on" the Cat 3.8's might include various files from the the Cat 3.0's, the Cat 3.4's, or really any version of the Catalysts, if the Omega Guy thinks it's a "better" driver file than the actual component ATi puts in the official 3.8's. I can't much see how that's an approach that won't cause more problems, somewhere, than it solves--and that's why I wasnt tempted by them.

When I tried the Omegas with my 9500Pro, I was pretty unimpressed. Omega Guy had written his driver readme to express his belief that his drivers represented an improvement over the standard official ATi drivers both in performance and IQ. Well, what I discovered after installing them was that the performance definitely improved, but it was because Omega Guy had decided it was a good thing to disable trilinear filtering for ATi products at that time, for the Omega driver set "based on" whatever Cat's it was based on. What I think happened was that in the file mixing process between driver versions that Omega Guy does, something just broke trilinear in the Omegas and he apparently didn't notice it. I'm an IQ kind of guy, so I went back to the standard drivers and I've never tried a set of "modded" drivers since. As I said I can't say, but I would imagine Wizzard does much the same thing as Omega--they simply mix and match driver file components, and write custom install scripts into the standard install .infs that come with the official IHV drivers. Not having the source code from any IHV, of course, means that even if they knew how to write driver code in the first place on even a rudimentary level they would not be able to do so for any IHV's driver set--which is a *good* thing--as what they are doing now, as harmful as it potentially might be to someone's configuration, is not as bad as what could happen if these guys were able to monkey around with the driver code itself on the source level.

You know, I really did agree on one level with nVidia when it decided a couple months ago to try and discourage Omega Guy from continuing to produce nVidia Omegas, and this is one time I believed them when they said many users of their products were reporting problems with them. The Omega approach to "modding drivers" has many strikes against it from the point of view of an IHV, since it completely defeats the IHV's exhaustive and expensive work relative to bug fixes that an IHV does on a continuing basis. On the level of customer relations, however, it's a tough place for an IHV, which is why nVidia backed off of its "hard line" against Omega Detonator driving modding when they perceived it was having a negative effect among their actual and potential customers. And also, I would imagine that less than 5% of both nVidia's and ATI's customers use such "modded" drivers, so there's really no sense in making the issue seem larger than it is. As long as people understand what these driver packages are, and what they aren't, I think it's fine if people want to play around with them or use them. I don't think it is advisable to use them, but that's just my own opinion.


The words "mixed and matched driver files from various official IHV driver releases, along with custom text-based driver install .infs, which themselves are simply the standard IHV install .infs to which text scripts have been added and various other things added and deleted," best describe what the drivers are. "Repackaged IHV driver sets," is the way I would describe them. Someone using such drivers should clearly understand that they can easily defeat all of the beta-testing both in-house and external that an IHV does before releasing an official set of drivers, they absolutely do defeat any "WHQL" testing certification the manufacturer's drivers have that they work correctly with Windows, and depending on which driver files ATi ships with the Catalysts that a modded driver replaces with files from earlier Catalyst release, there may be several bug fixes in the IHV release which are not in the modded driver version which is "based on" that release, if the bug fixes were made in the driver files that Omega or Wizzard choose to replace with older IHV driver files.

By comparison to what Omega is doing, look at what Unwinder the Riva Tuner guy does. There's a lot of difference as what Riva tuner did was to access driver functionality as ascertained by a knowledge of the driver source code, which the author does not pretend to have obtained through "official" channels, and in the cases where he was unable to obtain what he needed that way his overall knowledge of the source structure and functionality allowed him to reverse engineer the rest. Indeed, it was largely because of RT and its efforts to render nVidia driver "optimizations" nil that nVidia began encrypting its D3d drivers--to defeat such efforts in the future. It seems though that RT has still been able to work out a few things anyway with respect to the encrypted Detonators... (BTW, I have no first-hand knowledge that they are currently encrypted, but am simply taking the word of those who say such encryption exists.) The point here for me is that Rivatuner approaches driver configuration at a much deeper level than what the Omegas do, and does it without having to change any of the current release driver files, or through any re-writing and customizing of the standard driver install .inf. Such scripts as Rivatuner uses are internal to the Rivatuner program, AFAIK. Of course this example is only relevant to nVidia drivers, since Unwinder has been unable to get very far with the ATi driver source code... But... I'd also like to say that I stopped using 3rd-party 3d-driver tweaker software myself a while ago because I found myself often experiencing general stability problems while playing games that eventually I was able to trace to two things:

(1) Tweakers were activating functions in the 3d card drivers via registry switches, functionality that was often unfinished or buggy in the drivers, and turned off in the drivers by default as per intent by the IHV, and as such the features when turned on by the tweakers often did not work or else introduced stability problems that were difficult to pin down.

(2) Tweakers (Rivatuner is pretty good about it, though) often uninstall themselves while leaving many if not all of their registry and other .inf file settings changed in the system. This caused me a lot of initial perplexity as I had naively assumed that the Tweakers I had installed would "naturally" do a thorough job of uninstalling themselves, along any settings changes they had made. Even with the offending Tweaker program removed from the system, I found myself continuing to have problems with the driver settings changes they had made which they had failed to remove or reset. Often it's not clear where in the registry or the system a Tweaker makes all of its changes (unlike official IHV drivers which do a good job of uninstalling themselves and their settings), and so I am sure this accounts for that certain percentage of people who claim they "have to" reformat and reinstall Windows to ensure the proper installation of a new official driver set.
I myself have begun making my own drivers, like Omega and W1zzard, and am having fun doing it. There are alot of different combinations to try out, if you have a large enough library of drivers to use a parts. I recommend people try it if they ever have the time.(just dont redistribute them:) 



<b>I help because you suck</b>

More about : custom drivers

a b U Graphics card
October 26, 2003 8:17:39 AM

I've used Omegas, I liked them (up until the 'leaked' release). I like their assignable settings, and the built-in overclocking features. And while I didn't do much comparison, they did make things like smoke effects look better in my games IMO.

Alot of the features in them are now incorporated in the standard drivers (including overclocking) so I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep using them (especially in light of the 'leaked' issue I had w/ fast writes).

I do like that someone is trying to tweak the standard drivers though. As for them not being like unwinder does, yes that's tru, but that was one of the things that saved OmegaDrive from losing the nV drivers he had, since they were simply 'tweaked' and not rewritten (which would likely cause more issues IMO).

In any case I agree that these can be dangerous to run, but I think it's nice to have them, and I'm not that worried (but then again my card wasn't THAT expensive).

Just a note, it appears that ATI worked directly with Omega with the 3.8 release (obviously NOT the leaked 3.8.5 release) as he got them out to DH at almost exactly the same time as the offical Catalysts were availible from ATI. So I trust them a little more than Billy-Bob-Better-Beta drivers. :wink: The old DNA drivers were nice too, but they are also gone (now directed to get Omega drivers instead).

If people want to stick with the reference Catalysts but want some additional features, they can always use Rage3Dtweak which doesn't monkey with the display drivers, it mainly changes the control panel, or at least that's my impression of it from their info.

The main thing is people should know what and why they are adding these things before they go outside the 'recommended drivers' for their card. Just like sometimes you should only use your cardmakers drivers, and not the ATI drivers, because otherwise they lose some features special to their cards. But even that's a rarity IMO.

Anywhoo, well written piece, good for people to know.
Well done man!

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