Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bug Or Feature? AMD's Catalyst Doesn't Recognize NB Driver

When installing AMD's current northbridge drivers, the "success" confirmation message, installation log entries, and info in the Device Manager might lead you to believe that everything was installed just fine. Too bad the Catalyst setup says otherwise.

Tom's Hardware was made aware of a rather curious issue when one of our readers asked us for assistance. While at first glance it may not seem very serious, the frequency of its occurrence at least makes the issue a minor annoyance. After searching the Internet and finding a large number of forum threads on the subject, we came to the conclusion that the event described by our reader was far from an isolated case. This piqued our interest in the matter, especially since no plausible explanation had yet been offered. The issue boils down to the Device Manager and Catalyst disagreeing on whether the northbridge driver is actually installed or not.

The issue manifests itself under the following circumstances:

* Windows 7 (x64, x86)
* Motherboard with AMD chipset
* Catalyst 10.2 to 10.5
* Setup in Custom mode (not Express mode)

We hope that this article can be of help, because an old but very effective trick that we'll explore later in this article actually turned out to be the solution. It also has the potential of eliminating other irritations that may arise during the installation of AMD/ATI drivers. Furthermore, we will briefly describe a hidden option in the Catalyst installer that might be of use.

Installed Or Not?
o Installed Or Not?
o Installation And Verification
o Possible Causes And An Old Trick
o Updating? A Hidden Option
o Conclusion And Advice
* next page

To eliminate all possible sources of errors, we used clean Windows 7 installations with no drivers or updates installed, except for the Windows 7 updates.

In the Device Manager->System section, we selected "AMD PCI Express (3GIO) Driver," where we found the files atipcie.sys (x86) or atipcie64.sys (x64). These are the default drivers. We noted the installed driver version before proceeding.

We then unpacked the current version of Catalyst into the suggested directory and started the installation, pausing at the initial choice of either installing or uninstalling the driver.

We had to choose "Uninstall" and then "Custom Uninstall" to check whether any components were recognized by the installer. The result confirmed what we were expecting based on the described symptoms: Catalyst did not recognize any installed components, even though the driver was already installed by Windows 7 and Windows Update had been run.

After starting the installation again, we chose "Installation" and then "Custom Installation."

In addition to the USB drivers, we were offered the option of installing the northbridge drivers. Interestingly, the version offered was the same as the one already installed. We chose to install the drivers anyway to avoid confusion. The installation completed successfully.

After the mandatory reboot, we opened the Catalyst installer again to check the options for uninstalling the drivers.

Except for the USB drivers, no other components are displayed. When we switched over to the installation routine, where the driver was suggested for installation once more, nothing indicated that it was already installed!

Even if you only notice this issue when using the Custom installation mode (Express mode reveals little information about the installation process), we can understand being confused. Let’s set out to find the cause and a possible solution.

Possible Causes

After several experiments and brute force uninstallations (with Cleaner and manual removal of registry entries), we came to the conclusion that AMD's own Catalyst setup drivers and the drivers obtained through Windows installation and/or Windows Update want nothing to do with each other. Although manual installation and removal of the driver through Device Manager works, the Catalyst installer remains oblivious, offering to re-install all currently-installed drivers that are not AMD-exclusive (meaning the drivers already supplied by Microsoft).

At the same time, the opposite scenario is impossible, as these drivers are not recognized by the installer or uninstaller. AMD alone can answer to what extent this is either a security mechanism or the installer failing to identify drivers.


We would like to once more point out that this issue does not cause any real problems with the computer. The issue is merely a bother, causing unnecessary confusion for the folks who like to keep track of driver versions to ensure they're running the latest and greatest. But it's also obvious from our searches that this situation has existed for a long time, and that there has simply been no explanation or solution from AMD.

An Old Trick: A Simple, But Effective Procedure

The Catalyst installer starts by extracting the actual installation files to a directory. This is where the trick comes into play.

We navigate to the installation directory and then into the subdirectory called "Config." Here we find the file "InstallManager.cfg." We open this file with a suitable text editor, such as Notepad. This is what the file contains:

Note the last line ‘WorkaroundInstall’. By default, this is set to "false." We enable the option by setting the value to "true" and then save the file.

Now we start the setup from the directory by running Setup.exe. Note the installation options we are greeted with:

Some things changed that help to avoid confusion by AMD’s Catalyst: only exclusive driver packages remain after executing Catalyst setup with the workaround install option.

Additional Benefits

This trick also helps when the Catalyst installer, for some reason, refuses to install the driver, despite the hardware being plugged in and an older driver working perfectly. Next time you are facing an unfathomable installation problem, remember that modifying the installation configuration often works wonders. We were able to successfully use it when the current Catalyst 10.5 refused to install on systems that had previously had version 10.2 or 10.3 installed.

How to Find the Hidden Option

As the previous section explained, we first go to the directory with the extracted installation files. From there, we dip into the "Config" folder. Next, we open the "InstallManager.cfg" file with Notepad or a similar editor. Then we find the "Show Update" row at the bottom of the options list. This is set to "false" by default. We enable this option by setting the value to "true" and then save the file.

When starting the installation program, an additional option now appears in the main selection screen:

If you use the previously hidden "Update" option, a new wizard appears:

As a Catalyst user, you should adopt a certain degree of serenity. Some things may seem strange at first, but not all of them are actually signs of serious issues. If you just know certain tricks and workarounds, many inconsistencies can be solved more easily than you'd at first think.

Manually editing the configuration of the Catalyst setup can help solve situations like the one we've just explored. This article's documented steps should benefit less-experienced users, and perhaps suggest a lasting fix to AMD. The more features a software combines in a package, the more complex it gets. Mistakes are almost inevitably made. The real question is how well those mistakes will be addressed and remedied. This should be kept in mind when complaining.

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