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| Flashing a greeen[GeforceFX 5200 for Mac (4 comments )|
by: Power666 (25) | Posted in cluster Round 3 Editors Challenge Sponsored by Intel
Posted 74 months ago ( edited 74 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
Flashing the GeforceFX 5200 for Mac
|» MEDIA (5)|
Picture 1: Enabling Quartz 2D Extreme
Picture 2: Xbench Scores
Picture 3: Psychedelic Xbench
Picture 4: OpenGL Viewer Scores
Picture 5: The BFG Card
Not many people hang on to a six and a half year old computer as a primary system. Finding new upgrades for it are almost unheard of for a machine of that age. Like the ad slogan used by Apple computer a few years ago, Mac users tend to think different. For the owners of the first G4 machines, there were new processor upgrades, hard disk controllers, and video card options to breathe a little bit more life into their machines arriving on the market today. It was only a few weeks ago that the latest processors upgrades using the 7448 G4 chip arrived in online stores .
Despite using specialized processor daughter cards, there are more CPU options than video card options for these old machines. Considering that there are reasons beyond enhancing gaming performance to upgrade a graphics card, this is rather surprising. The GPU has been continually handed more work to do for the user interface with each release from OS X 10.2. This parallels the ideas behind graphics acceleration found in Windows Vista's Aero interface. Beyond just simple 2D interface work, GPU's in Macs are getting a workout from several of Apple's professional level applications like Motion and Aperture. Only newer video cards offer requisite features to enable GPU acceleration for these programs.
Mac users have plenty of reasons to upgrade their video cards but have an extremely limited selection of options. ATI makes a variety of retail upgrades with most Mac models supporting one or two of them. The real shocker for ATI's upgrades are the sticker prices for ATI's cards compared to what PC users can get for the same price. XFX considered releasing nVidia based retail cards for Macs, but that turned out to be vaporware . Acquiring a new Apple OEM video card is difficult and expensive. Even used Apple OEM cards can be sold for several times the amount of their PC counterparts currently go for.
The adventurous Mac user who doesn't care about voiding warranties has another possible solution - flashing a PC video card to work with their Mac. The idea is simple: PC and Mac versions of the same video card are distinguished only by their internal ROM and corresponding clock speeds. All this sounds good in theory, but it does take a little bit of research and work to accomplish it.
A bit of research needs to be done before even considering flashing a PC video card. There are three things that need to be checked: a Mac compatible driver, slot compatibility, and a Mac compatible ROM. For OS X users, the selection of drivers is limited to what Apple bundles with their OS for various ATI and nVidia hardware. Graphics cards from smaller vendors like Matrox, 3Dlabs, XGI and S3 don't even make it past this step.
Just like PC's, being aware of what voltages the slots on your motherboard uses is important. Those looking to flash a cheap PCI card for use in an ancient Mac or for additional displays on a more modern system have very little to worry about. Only the G5 towers require a 3.3V PCI card, while older machines work at the more common 5V. AGP comes in several different voltage flavors on the motherboard like PCI. 3.3V AGP 2x/4x graphic cards will not work AGP 4x capable G4 systems and G5's. Likewise, the newer 1.5V AGP 4/x/8x graphics cards will not work in older G4 systems. Universally keyed AGP cards that will accept both 3.3V and 1.5V slots will work across the entire spectrum of Apple machines.
The third step in finding a potential Mac compatible card is to locate a compatible Mac ROM. Cards that are directly equivalent between the Mac and the PC have the highest chance of success. Nearly all modern PC graphics cards have a 64 KB ROM while the OEM and retail Mac cards typically use a 128 KB ROM. Thus, the Mac hacking community has reduced the ROM sizes of various cards so that they can be directly flashed to the PC hardware. There are modified ROM's that support some PC hardware that have no direct Mac relative as well. Modified ROM's will typically suffice for normal 2D and 3D work. Features like deep sleep or DVI output may not work, however. Searching the internet for the Apple OEM ROM's and their modified counterparts is a tedious task. Thankfully, there is a good repository of ROM's that makes the hunt rather straightforward .
Flashing the Geforce 5200
The process for flashing the GeforceFX 5200 in a PC is similar to several nVidia flashing experiments in the past. The same process of flashing a PC GeforceFX 5900 Ultra with the GeforceFX 5950 Ultra ROM that was common several years ago is used for making a GeforceFX Mac compatible. The software tool to use for flashing nVidia cards on the PC is nvflash. Attention has to be paid to what version is used with what cards. Version 4.42 is used here. The system starts up off of a DOS boot floppy that also contains the nvflash and the Mac ROM. The machine is set to use an old S3 PCI video card laying around as its boot display.
A back up of the GeforceFX 5200's PC ROM is done with this command:
a:> nvflash -b backup.rom
Then this command is used to flash the card:
a:> nvflash -p -u -r -j mac5200.rom
After this, the PC is shut down so the card can be removed. The last step is to place it into a Mac.
Issues for other Macs
The GeforceFX 5200 is going into a 'Sawtooth' G4 which has an AGP 2x slot. The PC cards that have a Mac ROM and run at AGP 2x speeds tend to work well in this machine.
Owners of other G4 based Macs need to modify the AGP connector on the video card for it to function properly. For some odd reason, Apple decided to use a few unassigned pins on the AGP slot for Mac specific functions. To get around this AGP quirk, taping pins 3 and 11 on the graphics card is required.
Other cards capable of being flashed over, like some Geforce 7800's, need a few changes made to the nVidia drivers found in OS X. Hardware peripherals have an identification number, called a DeviceID, that lets the operating system match drivers to their corresponding hardware. The device ID's of some cards are contained in the Mac ROM. The solution is to add the DeviceID to the Mac driver and detailed instructions for this can be found here.
Notes for Mac Pro owners
Apple announced their transition from PowerPC based CPU's to Intel based processors two years ago. For desktop users the result is the Mac Pro. Apple has chosen not to let standard PC graphics cards be used within OS X natively. Considering the new architecture, there are very few options available when it comes to video cards for these machines. While this article is focused upon old PowerPC hardware, the same general technique of finding a compatible ROM and flashing over the PC version can still be done.
There is an alternative with the Natit  and Titan  system extensions. They are system extensions that will turn adapt OS X's drivers to recognize standard PC video cards. Non-PC graphics cards are supported like the Geforce 7950GX2 and all nVidia cards with over 512 MB of RAM.
Owners of Mac Pros using Boot Camp to create a Windows based system can use any PCI-E graphics card when booting Windows.
Despite the Mac Pro's ability to physically hold four PCI-E graphics cards, CrossFire and SLI are not supported regardless of operating system used.
Beyond having new hardware
Overclocking is a risk-taking venture of the PC enthusiast that has transformed over the years into the art of enhancing performance. PC users have developed plenty of tools to tweak every last little bit of Mhz out of a chip. Even some driver suites include the tools built right in.
Those hoping that the Mac drivers bundled with OS X offer an overclocking option are going to be disappointed. A suite of tools called Graphiccelerator is available to dump the ROM, modify the GPU core and memory clock speeds in the ROM, and re-flash it . Graphiccelerator cannot be used to directly flash a PC card in a Mac. Owners of nVidia hardware in their Macs don't have as elegant a solution as ATI owners. Those with ATI hardware can use a real time overclocking tool called ATIcellerator. This program allows users to adjust GPU and memory speeds independently of each other in real time.
One of the most interesting features of OS X 10.4 is hidden away disabled by default. Quartz 2D Extreme is Apple's latest move to make the GPU handle as much window processing as possible. By editing the window server's preferences, Quartz 2D Extreme can be enabled. The com.apple.windowserver.plist file is located in /Library/Preferences. It can be changed using Property List Editor which is part of Apple's developer tools. Applications launched after enabling Quartz 2D Extreme will gain the benefits of GPU acceleration.
(See Picture 1: Enabling Quartz 2D Extreme)
Breaking in the new (old) video card
Hardware use for testing:
PowerMac G4 'Sawtooth
1.8 Ghz G4 7447 upgrade from GigaDesigns
832 MB of RAM
40 GB hard drive
Flashed BFG GeforceFX 5200 256 MB
Radeon 9800Pro Mac Edition
Mac Software used:
OS X 10.4.9 for PowerPC
ATI Displays 4.5.7
PC software used:
Xbench aims to be a comprehensive Mac benchmark tool. Testing areas include the CPU, memory, hard disks and of course, graphics. Only the Quartz, OpenGL and User Interface Tests were performed. Due to the run-run variations of Xbench exhibits, Xbench was run seven times. The highest and lowest scores were discarded and the remaining five scores averaged. Scores presented from the Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition are presented here for comparison.
(See Picture 2: Xbench Scores and Picture 3: Psychedelic Xbench )
The Xbench scores high light a few flaws with that benchmark. The oddity is the critically lower user interface scores when Quartz 2D Extreme is enabled. From subjective testing, OS X was more responsive when moving windows, scrolling and using Expose.
OpenGL Extensions Viewer is a tool to explore the OpenGL functionality of a graphics card and its drivers. There is a small benchmark mode offered with the program. It is a purely synthetic test. Scores presented from the Radeon 9800 Pro Mac Edition are presented here for comparison.
(See Picture 4: OpenGL Viewer Scores)
•Quartz 2D Extreme support
•Easy to flash
•Costs next to nothing second hand
•Easiest way of flashing is done via PC
•Ancient, even for Macs
•Snail for gaming
•Expensive from retail
GeforceFX 5200 - 78% (See Picture 5: The BFG Card)
While it didn't capture the performance crown, it is able to run the latest GPU accelerated technology. It can still be found at retail locations online and off. The GeforceFX 5200's cousin, the GeforceFX 5500, can also be made Mac compatible with the GeforceFX 5200 Mac ROM. While retail solutions are a bit expensive, acquiring one of these cards secondhand is easy and economical. In fact, the card in question was payment many years ago for helping with a computer upgrade. The real issue for the GeforceFX 5200 is its age. It was no speed demon even when it was first released on the PC four years ago. So, while it may not shine for gaming it is still worth considering for its GPU acceleration elsewhere. Once Quartz 2D Extreme was enabled, the snappiness of OS X's interface picked up. In benchmarks the speed gain didn't reflect what was felt subjectively. From simple window moving to scrolling and to Expose, the interface was responsive. Mac users using a graphics cards like the Rage128 the system shipped with or the Radeon 8500 will have something to gain with a flashed GeforceFX 5200.
While the GeforceFX 5200 was the only card tested here, there are other cards on the market available that can be flashed that would work in the old Mac at hand. Later G4's sporting an AGP 4x slot and AGP 8x G5's can utilize a PC Geforce 7800GS card with the right ROM. Though with the Mac Pros, the experimenting with flashing cards will likely decline with projects like Natit and Titan. Technology has simply moved past the capabilities of this six year old Mac and it is simply time to get a new system.
|4 User Comment(s) • 4 root comment(s)|
| Power666 (25) Apr 10, 2007 - 02:23 am|
|I have a copy of Quake 3 around here some where but I just couldn't find the CD. I downloaded the DOOM3 demo for Mac and it was a bit of a slide show on the Radeon 9800Pro. I would have included some benchmarks with it but I couldn't get a time demo to work for benchmarking (I don't think the demo included any). Then there is the huge time factor that I was chronically short on.|
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| Power666 (25) Apr 07, 2007 - 10:39 pm|
|I haven't tested Graphiccelerator for flashing ATI cards. At the very least, one would need another video card to use Graphiccelerator for the flash.|
I've heard of a way to flash an nVidia card in a Mac with a Mac ROM but that requires mucking around with OpenFirmware a bit. Looking from the instructions for that, it appeared easier to flash the nVidia card in a PC than the Mac. Using a PC for this wasn't troublesome at all and of course gave me the chance to test the card out before flashing it. I got the GeforceFX 5200 for free from a friend awhile back. It has been awhile since I used it so I made sure it worked in the PC before modifying it.
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| Camper-Hunter (1) Apr 07, 2007 - 03:00 am|
|> Graphiccelerator cannot be used to directly flash a PC card in a Mac.|
Actually it can be used to flash ATI cards in PowerPC Macs. No PC necessary. Only NVIDIA cards currently require to be flashed in a PC.
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