ATI Mobility Radeon Drivers from Dell

A couple of days ago I wrote about some headaches upgrading to Windows XP SP3. This was related to my ability to rotate my screen being scuttled by the SP3 update. Microsoft said I needed a driver update to restore this functionality but Dell did not seem to provide one, so I tried to get some publicly available drivers from the ATI website which didn’t work for me, because they didn’t contain any definitions for the Mobility Radeon series, only the desktop versions. This meant that although my monitor rotation worked, I couldn’t get my LCD to display at the native 1400×1050 resolution that it usually displays at, which was a deal breaker and I had to revert to SP2 and install the Windows Service Pack Blocker Tool Kit to stop it from automatically upgrading again.

A couple of comments later, people pointed out that the problem is really Dell’s rather than Microsoft’s because Dell hadn’t bothered to release a driver update in years despite ATI continually updating their reference drivers. What’s worse, Dell has a deal with ATI where Dell users can’t download drivers directly from the ATI website. So users are supposedly stuck with the broken old Dell drivers that Dell couldn’t be bothered to update.

I did some researching on the Dell forums and found two entries that gave me the correct information so that I could find drivers that worked with SP3, even though they were unsupported by Dell. There is a “hidden” link on the ATI website that allows you to download the drivers for Mobility Radeon series bypassing the compatibility check that usually stops Dell users from accessing the drivers:

After I got the drivers from this site, everything worked like a charm and I was able to use my video card rotation function correctly with SP3. One small gotcha regarding the latest ATI drivers is that you must have the Microsoft .NET Framework Version 2.0 installed in order to use them.

All of this would have been a lot simpler if Dell just kept their drivers up to date! I have a Dell Latitude D610, which is widely deployed at enterprises worldwide. It’s surprising that their enterprise customers haven’t made a bigger fuss about this.

Windows XP SP3 Update Gotchas

I took the plunge and updated my machine to Windows XP SP3 today, a good month after general release. I don’t like to install Microsoft software when it’s first released, because more often than not, there are too many unknown bugs and I like my workhorse machine to work well.

After installing SP3, everything (so far) seemed to work fine except that the monitor rotation feature of my ATI Radeon X300 stopped working, so I could no longer orient my monitor in a vertical position rather than the standard horizontal. I like vertical because it’s better for the office as more email headers and text info can be viewed on a single screen.

After tinkering around and getting new drivers from the Dell website (I have a Latitude D610), it still doesn’t work. I then do a bit of Googling and find Microsoft KB 947309 (euphemistically titled Some third-party programs may experience a change in functionality after you install Windows XP Service Pack 3), which explains that this feature requires an updated driver to work with SP3.

Dell’s newest driver didn’t work (go figure), so I tried the one from ATI. When I tried to install it, it said that I didn’t have any cards that were supported by the driver (which cannot be true). In the end I had to use XP’s manual driver update interface and use the “Have disk” button to force it to install drivers that it warned me would not be compatible. I chose the ATI Radeon X300/X550/X1050 Series driver that came with version 8.5 of the ATI Catalyst software.

That seemed to do the trick after a reboot, but it did leave me wondering how any Joe Average computer user is supposed to figure this out and why this kind of stuff needs to break with a service pack upgrade in the first place.

This is also precisely why I never let any of my friends do OS upgrades with Windows, because it’s less headache to start fresh and reinstall apps then it is to try to troubleshoot the shortcomings of Microsoft’s upgrade paths.

UPDATE: I had to revert back to SP2 and the old Dell drivers. More details later (and a fix).