As many of you already know, the GPUs that ATI use in their desktop graphics cards are the same GPUs used in their workstation-grade graphics cards. The reason for the performance differences between desktop and workstation graphics cards lie in the driver. The driver detects the type of card and automatically disables certain functionality for desktop cards. That's why workstation graphics cards perform much better than desktop cards in professional 3D applications.
Physically, both desktop and workstation cards are basically the same. There may be some minor differences between the two cards but both workstation and desktop cards are essentially the same. Therefore, it is possible for us to modify the desktop cards into full-fledged workstation cards. We can do so either by soft-modding or hard-modding the card.
In our ATI Radeon To ATI FireGL Soft Mod Guide, we went through the possible soft mods for different ATI Radeon desktop cards. Although soft-modding is relatively painless and risk-free, it doesn’t always work. You will also need to spend a lot of time trying different drivers, patching them and so on. With that said, the soft mod way is worth a try for those who don’t want to risk damaging their cards or voiding their card’s warranty.
Unfortunately, those minor physical differences mentioned earlier may prevent efforts at soft-modding. ATI may have done so for that very purpose. Otherwise, these cards can be easily soft-modded into full workstation-grade cards by merely fooling the driver into identifying them as proper workstation cards. With such cards, soft-modding is not an option.
Luckily, we still have another option left - a hard mod! This form of modding is guaranteed to work, as long as it was performed correctly. However, this mod usually involves soldering or physically modifying your card. Therefore, hard-modding your card will instantly void its warranty. You also risk damaging your card in the process. The good news is, hard- modding your card isn’t actually hard, if you have good soldering skills. As the title suggests, this guide is going to teach you how to hard-mod your Radeon 9800-series card into a FireGL X2 workstation card. This guide will cover all Radeon 9800 cards - Radeon 9800 SE, Radeon 9800, Radeon 9800 Pro and Radeon 9800XT.
Disclaimer : We will not be held responsible for any damage to your card that occurs as a direct or indirect result of performing this mod. Please note that performing this mod automatically voids your card's warranty. So, please be aware of the risks associated with this mod and make your own informed decision on whether to perform this mod or not.
Identifying Your Card
There are many kinds of Radeon 9800 cards. Even models like the Radeon 9800 SE comes with different versions. So, it's necessary to identify your card because you will need to find the right BIOS images for your card. Please note that some of these cards have lower chances of success than others.
Radeon 9800 SE
The Radeon 9800 SE normally comes in two different flavours. As most of you know, they come with either a 128-bits or 256-bits memory bus. But both versions have half of their pixel pipelines disabled. The disabled pixel pipelines may be totally defective or not functioning properly. But in some cases, they are actually working properly. That's when it becomes possible to mod the Radeon 9800 SE into a Radeon 9800 Pro!
The easiest way to identify your Radeon 9800 SE is to look at the arrangement of the memory chips on the PCB. The memory chips on a 128-bits Radeon 9800 SE card are arranged in an “I” shape while the those on a 256-bits Radeon 9800 SE are arranged in an “L” shape, similar to that of a Radeon 9800 Pro.
Of course, only Radeon 9800 SE cards with properly-functioning (but disabled) pixel pipelines are moddable into the FireGL X2. To verify whether the disabled pixel pipelines in your Radeon 9800 SE are still working, you can try soft-modding your Radeon 9800 SE into a Radeon 9800 Pro. Then try running 3D games or applications on the soft-modded card. If it runs them properly, then your card’s disabled pixel pipelines are all functioning properly.
For more information on enabling your Radeon 9800 SE's disabled pixel pipelines, you can have a look at our Radeon 9800 SE To Radeon 9800 Pro Mod Guide.
If your Radeon 9800 SE has fully working pixel pipelines and it comes with a 256-bits-wide memory bus, then this mod should not be a problem. Radeon 9800 SE cards that come with only a 128-bits-wide memory bus have a different PCB layout that may make it harder to mod them into the FireGL X2. In addition, even if you manage to mod one, its performance would not match that of the real FireGL X2 as it has far less memory bandwidth compared to the real FireGL X2 card.
As for the onboard memory buffer, you don’t have to worry about its size, whether it's 128MB or 64MB. The hard mod should work as long as you have the appropriate FireGL X2 BIOS. So far, I’ve only seen Radeon 9800 SE with a maximum buffer size of 128MB. Since the original FireGL X2 only comes with 256MB of memory, you will need to either modify the original BIOS, or find a modified/hacked FireGL X2 BIOS that supports your card's memory size.
If you don't know how to modify BIOS images, RaBiT is a good BIOS editor for ATI BIOS images. You can easily change the memory bus width, memory size, memory timings, clock speeds and so on.