I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor about ATi’s Catalyst 3.8 drivers allegedly destroying monitors due to sending incorrect refresh or scan line information. Although a monitor can indeed be damaged by feeding it with a higher refresh rate or horizontal scan line frequency than it is capable of handling, I doubt ATi’s drivers do any of these things. Why? Simply because I’ve seen numerous reports of people in forums around the web discussing it, but just one or two that really have a damaged monitor to back their claims up. If you take into account the vast number of people that have an ATi Radeon 9700 or 9800, pro or non pro, video card you’d think that if this was really an issue, we’d see many people posting about their monitor failing. And no, the excuse that they can’t post messages on forums because their monitor stopped working doesn’t really apply here. So what we have here, at least it seems that way, is a good example of internet mass hysteria, all caused by a few individuals that probably lost their monitors due to old age, wear and tear, or simply forcing it to run at resolutions or refresh rates they didn't support.
Fig 1. The display properties panel in Windows XP, showing the correct monitor connected to the videocard.
Obviously we’ve given it a go in the office here too, we have a number of monitors, ranging from a fishbowl 14” to a nice flatscreen 22”, that we put to the test, using an ATi Radeon 9800 Pro and 9800 XT to see whether we could send any of these monitors off to an early retirement. All that we were left with were simply monitors that went black when running at a higher resolution than they supported whilst displaying the message ‘Signal out of range’ or something similar. Only two monitors, the fishbowl 14” and an older 15”, which did not have built in protecting against too high refresh or scan line frequencies could be coached into near destruction. But obviously we quickly reacted by simply setting the resolution or refresh a few steps back prior to the monitor giving up on us.
What could be the cause here? Well, here’s one from personal experience. Many people use a VGA to BNC cable instead of a VGA to VGA cable as especially on larger CRT monitors this is really a good way to boost color reproduction and image sharpness. The problem however is that no DCC information is being sent along the cable to identify the monitors maximum refresh and scan line frequencies, all monitors just show up as ‘Default monitor’. Without the DCC information being sent it is up to the user to define all frequencies, and setting these higher than feasible could indeed cause for a monitor to develop a defect. However most monitors also monitor the BNC connectors for frequencies that they can’t sync to and could be harmful to the monitor. So at the end of the day there’s the monitors inf file, which has all relevant info on frequencies, that prevents it from damage by informing the operating system of it’s capabilities. On the other hand there’s the monitor that also monitors the input and display as ‘Signal out of range’ or similar message when we push up the refresh or scan line frequencies too high. If you want to be 100% sure you can always use a tool such a PowerStrip
to determine the exact refresh rate, pixel clock, and horizontal and vertical scan line frequencies and compare those to your monitor specifications.
Fig 2. The PowerStrip advanced timing options, showing the exact pixel clock, and scan line frequencies.
So unless someone can show me how exactly I can destroy my monitor with these two fail safe mechanisms in place and ATi’s Catalyst 3.8 drivers I’m considering these rumors a one man’s grudge for probably destroying his own monitor that were blown out of proportion by internet mass hysteria. If you can prove otherwise I’d be happy to hear it though, as if we can reproduce it in the labs, this certainly is worth further investigation and if true, big headlines printed in red on the frontpage warning our readers of the dangers of ATi’s Catalyst 3.8 drivers. Until then I see no reason to NOT use the 3.8s, they offer a nice performance boost and support for the OverDrive feature as found on the Radeon 9800 XT.