Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ATI Video Card Blacks-Out

ATI Radeon Video installed on Windows 7 64 "flashes" and blacks-out repeated after waking from a hardware deep-sleep. Unfortunately, I do not have a resolution to this problem. This article discusses my trouble-shooting steps, including how to cleanly-install ATI Drivers.

I recently decided to upgrade my Video card to an ATI Radeon HD 4650. The upgrade went smoothly, but a few days later, I noticed the primary monitor, on a dual-video setup, blanked-out (blacked out, flashed, blinked) after waking from a hard sleep.
  • Primary Screen Flashes / Blinks / blacks-out after waking
  • Only the Primary monitor is affected
  • A standard Sleep (Start, Shutdown, Sleep) does not have this problem
  • Installing/Re-installing video drivers is useless
  • ATI's Website offers no help
  • Replacing the video-card does not resolve the problem
  • Likely a driver issue
  • Cold-booting the computer temporarily fixes the problem

At first, I thought this was a hardware problem and replaced the card. The second card behaved the same, indicating a software problem. Because this computer worked properly a few days earlier, with no other changes, this points to an ATI driver problem.

Knowing how sneaky drivers can be, it pays to make sure the old drivers are de-installed and re-installed properly; seldom is this as easy as an add-remove-programs. This video card was no different.

Clean Install of ATI Video Drivers

The computer was upgraded from an older NVidia PCIe card to an ATI. I followed these steps to ensure the Nvidia and original ATI drivers were completely de-installed. These steps were tested on Windows 7 64-bit:

1. Download, but do not install, the latest ATI Video drivers.

As of 2011.01.24, ATI has a Preview version 10.12 (where "we are letting our customers try out the brand-new Catalyst Control Center..."). Ignore this and chose the next section, "Catalyst Software Suite (64-bit) English Only; version 10.10 12/13/2010. You do not have the time to beta-test their software. Besides, why install the Catalyst Control Center? Most of us could care-less; we just need the drivers.

Be sure to save the installation file to a known location.
For example, C:\Data\Downloads\hardware\ATI.

2. Download and install a third-party program from Guru3d: "Driver Sweeper"

Link: http://downloads.guru3d.com/Guru3D---Driver-Sweeper-%28Setup%29_d1655.html

Save this file to a known location.
Install DriverSweeper, but do not run the program yet.

3. In the Windows Control Panel, "Programs and Features", click "ATI Catalyst Install Manager".

Click Change
Choose "Custom"
Select *all* components

For example, my system showed (you may have others):
[x] ATI Display Driver
[x] WMV9/VC-1 Video Playback (yes, I experimented with version 1.00)

Allow all components to de-install. Do not restart.

4. In Windows Control Panel, open "Device Manager"
Tunnel to Display Adapters
"Other-mouse-click" the ATI adapter and select Uninstall.

5. Once uninstalled, shut down the computer normally (cold-power-off).

6. Power on the computer and enter Windows Safe Mode

To enter Safe Mode, keep tapping the F8 key after the hardware BIOS screen displays. Tap the key repeatedly, but not frantically, until the "Safe Mode" menu displays. If you miss this and the computer boots normally, gracefully shut down and try again.

When the computer boots into Safe Mode, your monitor may complain the video is not correctly set. Ignore it.

7. From the Start Menu, select Programs, "Phyxion.net" (driverSweep).

8. On the displayed driversweep options, choose all ATI components. In my case, I also chose the older NVidia components that remained.

Click "Clean"
Reboot when prompted and reboot normally.
When the machine boots back into Windows, expect awful video resolution.

9. Using Windows Explorer, create a directory to house the soon-to-be-installed video drivers.

I like to make my directory here and you must make this directory by hand before running the next step:

10. Locate and run the ATI video installation file from Step 1.

When prompted, browse to the destination folder created in step 9

Backspace the ATI-folder name (that looks something like this: \10-12_Vista64_Win7_dd_cc_enu) -- leaving only "C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\ATI" in the path (or accept the offered path; I like to keep these things cleaned-up).

11. Click Next, Install, then Custom

12. The next step installs the utilities used by the card. Optionally accept the default installation directory, but I like to change it to a utility directory:
"C:\Program Files\Util\ATI"

13. On the Component Selection Screen, choose the options you think you will need.

I recommend choosing the bare-minimum drivers and you will only get this with a 'Custom' install. My Component Selections appear like this, where [ ] is unchecked:

[ ] Catalyst Control Center
[X] ATI Catalyst Install Manager
[ ] Lord of the Rings
[X] ATI Display Driver
[ ] Communication Opt-in
[ ] AMD Drag and Drop Transcoding
[ ] WMV9/VC-1 Video Playback

Things like the Catalyst Control Center appear to be superfluous - most of the settings I care about are in the Windows Control Panel, but admittedly, if you need to color-balance or are a hard-core gamer, you should install the Control Center. I would guess 95% of us will never care. Your opinions on this are welcome.

14. Allow the workstation to reboot when prompted.

Once booted, open Control Panel, Display, "Change Display Settings" and confirm your monitor configuration and resolutions.

Additional Notes about the Screen-Flashing Problem

There is much discussion on the web about the video flashing and there were no obvious solutions. In my testing, no amount of driver-fiddling fixed the problem. Judging from the search results, many people are having this same problem. Sadly, ATI's site does not address the issue -- indeed, their site does not have a place to house vendor-approved instructions; they seem to rely on user-forums.

The Forums had all kinds of solutions, ranging from registry hacks to thoughts about cooling fans running too slow, to installing without GL support, to moving motherboard memory chips to different slots, to upgrading motherboard firmware, to disabling virtual cpu's, to applying a half-dozen Microsoft hot-fixes .... well, you get the idea -- none solved the problem and ATI is mums about it.

In the end, I gave up and returned the card.

Best Buy:

My compliments to Best Buy for accepting the original video card and exchanging it for a second card, with no questions asked. Then, a week later I returned the second card and explained everything. To my pleasant surprise, they had no problem and allowed me to exchange the card a second time. I chose an NVidia brand and that is what I am running now.

Normally, when I post articles like this, I have solutions --but in this case, I could not resolve the problem. Your comments are welcome and may help other readers.

Hardware Discussed:
ATI Radeon HD 4650; 1GB, 2 DVI ports, apx $70
Galaxy GeForce 210; 1 GB, 1 DVI, 1 VGA, apx $65

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