PowerStrip – A Look Inside

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And now for something completely useful…..

I’ve long been a big fan of EnTech’s video card and monitor Optimizer, although this description (mine) is hardly inclusive. PowerStrip is really a unique and wonderful little program (NOTE: The latest release is PowerStrip Beta 2.63.00). It does many things and does them very well. It harmonizes the interrelations between monitor and video card – ANY video card, and almost any monitor. It will allow you to pre-determine how your games will run, at what refresh rates and color depth. It allows you to preset for any game on your hard drive. It’ll overclock your video card and update the Windows INF files to get the most out of your monitor.

As the usefulness of these and other features is realized and picked up on by video card manufacturers and implemented in their drivers, EnTech keeps ahead of the game by constantly adding new features and capabilities. Recently when Joe Citarella asked if I’d be interested in writing something on Powerstrip, I was delighted! “Sure Joe it’s one of my favorite utilities.”

But then what could I say? I’m NOWHERE CLOSE to understanding PowerStrip on a teckno level. The EnTech Site itself has about as clear and useful set of descriptive instructions as you’ll find on the web. Then, like a radiant dawn rising from within the depths of my Asus GeForce to illuminate my 19′ ViewSonic monitor, it came to me: PowerStrip WORKS!

It works without mucking anything else up! It makes it easier for me to run my games the way I want to run them. And there is this: When I have a question about anything graphically related, I can e-mail EnTech and get a well-though-out reply. And THAT, my brothers, is what it takes to make a fan of me. A good and useful product with a caring and responsive company backing it up.

But these truths seemed self-evident (to trample upon a phrase). I still didn’t have what I felt I needed to write something worthwhile about PowerStrip. Should I fake it? I ALWAYS get caught. I could just wait and see if Joe forgot he asked me. Joe don’t forget, I’ll fake it. I’ll get caught. What IF there was no need to fake it! What if I could slither out from under leaving someone else to do the work? But who? I couldn’t pay someone, that would be unethical as the money would have to come from my pocket. No, no couldn’t pay someone to do it. SO it would have to be someone who would do it for free…. Or….OR OR someone who is ALREADY getting paid to do it……Yes?

Now at NO little expense to myself I bring you the First Annual EnTech PowerStrip Interview with Ashley Saldanha:

(1) As head chef and bottlewasher of EnTech Taiwan could you tell us a little about your educational background?

First off, I apologize for the delay in replying but as I mentioned you happened to catch me over the lunar new year holiday. So – you really want to know about my education? Why? Is this a job interview?

(2) How long have you been perfecting PowerStrip?

“Perfecting” is definitely not the right term to use. The program evolved out of something older, which grew out of something else before that. The PowerStrip as it looks today was first shown to a couple of manufacturers in the summer of 1995, and was largely written to the specs of just one board maker.

It was actually pretty cool five years ago, and ended up shipping with a lot of lower-end cards from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Truth be told, though, a lot of what is awkward about the program today is also due to this long and slow evolution – it’s never been redesigned for the card and operating system you’re using today, and it badly needs just that.

(3) What implementations in PS were the most difficult to effect?

I suppose the color controls and in-game hotkeys, especially under NT. At the time I started on this, gamma ramp support was already in the Win32 API/DDI but few drivers implemented it and it wasn’t supported under NT at all. To this day, the PowerStrip is the only software that provides in-game gamma hotkeys under D3D, with full support for NT. It is also the only color correction software in the industry that can actually read and use the CIE chromaticity information your monitor manufacturer has encoded.

(4) What were the most gratifying in their accomplishment?

Just now it would have to be the Win2K support, taken as a whole. Although it is far from complete, under Windows 2000 the PowerStrip provides more control over a Matrox card than Matrox provides, more control over a 3dfx card than 3dfx provides, more control over an ATI card than ATI provides, and on and on.

Of course, this is a silly comparison – the chip houses naturally have to focus on their drivers before they can turn to their user controls. But I nevertheless get a bit of satisfaction out of the fact that someone who registered the PowerStrip for their Riva 128 or Rendition card under Windows 95 a couple of years ago can still get some use out of the software with their G400 or GeForce under Windows 2000 today. Updates have always been free and frequent.

(5) What would you have liked to accomplish with PS that you haven’t yet been able to implement?

A lot of what I might mention here is actually going to be in PowerStrip 3.0. But there are things I don’t have time to do quickly or do well enough – some of them straightforward like OpenGL and D3D test screens and benchmarks, and some of which I just can’t go into here. Then there are the many things I simply don’t know how to do, and can’t figure out.

It’s a major disappointment for me that after all this time I still have such poor relations with the major chip houses. 3dfx and Nvidia don’t even bother to reply to my requests for information, and other companies like Number Nine and VideoLogic just decline politely. Worse – there’s also been the occasional PowerStrip bashing by some companies, but I won’t go into that. The point is there is only so much one can do by trial and error.

(6) I find it truly remarkable that a request coming from some one such as myself, to find a way to disable sidebanding, should meet with such a positive response. Do you often entertain such requests?

Not usually when it comes from the likes of you… Seriously – this is user-supported software after all, and one tries to be responsive. Besides, those switches you asked about were already in there to begin with – I only had to tell you what they were.

(7) What can we look forward to in PowerStrip 3.0 that we don’t already have? How much can there be left to do?

PowerStrip 3.0 is so different that I expect many people will choose not to upgrade to it at all. 3.0 is more compact and better organized, and a lot of chips and features that are irrelevant or redundant in the year 2000 are eliminated. It definitely wants to be smaller, and it will be multi-monitor enabled in a way that no other software is.

(8) Are there any “undocumented secrets” you could let Overclockers.com in on?

“Undocumented” isn’t the right word. Everything about the PowerStrip is documented somewhere – you just need to look. The PowerStrip, for example, is the oldest Win32 o/c utility there is. If you know how to use it, it also happens to be the smallest, fastest and easiest to use, via its command line parameters. Of course, if you have no memory of DOS and you’re not comfortable with the command-line, this isn’t going to appeal but the syntax is as follows:

pstrip.exe /clk n1 n2 x

where n1 is the desired memory clock speed, n2 is the desired core clock speed, and the trailing x (or /exit in the latest beta) tells the PowerStrip to set the clocks and then exit immediately for a zero-k footprint.

Then there are the recently added AGP configuration parameters, which I list below:

  • pstrip.exe /agp:1x
  • pstrip.exe /agp:2x
  • pstrip.exe /agp:4x
  • pstrip.exe /agp:off
  • pstrip.exe /sba:on
  • pstrip.exe /sba:off
  • pstrip.exe /fw:on
  • pstrip.exe /fw:off
  • pstrip.exe /dxagp:on
    vpstrip.exe /dxagp:off

Note that some of these switches can hang your system. It depends on the card, driver and what has gone on before the PowerStrip is run – for example, once initialized SBA cannot be safely disabled.

Anyway, these switches are hopefully self-explanatory, and can be combined to make for some interesting shortcuts, e.g.,

pstrip.exe /agp:1x /sba:on /fw:on /dxagp:on /v- /clk 166 130 x

  • /agp:1x configures both the mainboard and graphics card for 1x transfers
  • /sba:on turns AGP sidebanding on
  • /fw:on turns fast writes on
  • /dxagp:on enables DirectX AGP support
  • /v- turns VSYNC off
  • /clk 166 130 sets the memory clock to 166MHz and the engine clock to 130MHz
  • x closes the PowerStrip after all the preceding options are set – making for a 0kb footprint.

If you prefer, the pstrip.ini can also be edited and the following kind of switches can be added manually:

  • [AGP]
  • Rate=n ;//where n=0, 1, 2 or 4
  • SBA=n ;//where n=0 (disable) or 1 (enable)
  • FW=n ;//where n=0 (disable) or 1 (enable)

Visual controls for these switches are in the next release.

(9) Finally, much has been said and felt concerning Nvidia’s decision to disable sidebanding in its recent drivers. Could you briefly explain to us just what sidebanding is and what your take is on Nvidia’s decision?

Off the top of my head? Sure – The sideband address port is one of two ways in which requests for data can be passed from the graphics card to the system memory controller. When SBA is disabled or not supported, the address/data bus or AD is used for both data requests and data transfers. When SBA is enabled, the AD bus is freed for data transfers only. So, technically SBA is more efficient.

With SBA enabled, however, timing issues become much more critical precisely because the SBA and AD are de-coupled and need careful synchronization. Two factors that upset the kind of synchronization required are higher AGP clock speeds and insufficient or unsteady voltage. Hence it tends to be the overclocked FSBs and the newest graphics cards, with their more demanding power requirements, that are most prone to sync problems – just the kind of systems gamers usually run.

I am in no position to pass judgment on Nvidia’s decisions – clearly they have to make some compromises to balance performance against stability. But I would want to point out that this isn’t just an Nvidia GeForce problem – the last time I checked, sideband was disabled on the Savage 2000 as well, and though the G400s have sideband enabled, the G400 drivers frequently drop all the way back to 1x transfer rates – which is just a different way of improving stability at the expense of performance.

I also think people make too big a deal out of this sort of thing. It is perfectly understandable that people want everything enabled and working perfectly, but its not as if the SBA pins have been clipped or anything like that: SBA is just disabled by the current BIOS and/or drivers and could be enabled by a simple update to one or the other. If you haven’t already, you are going to soon see registry switches that enable or disable these things. After all, most of the things the PowerStrip does end up in your display driver soon or later.

And keep in mind that we’re talking about cards with 32MB these days, whereas the classic AGP card was Intel’s own Express3D 740 – a very inexpensive card with just 4MB of local memory that did all its texturing in system memory to keep board costs down. As clever as that was a couple of years ago, today memory costs just aren’t as critical as they once were.

Even if you have 4x transfers with sideband addressing and fast writes enabled, AGP texturing is still going to be slower than texturing in local memory, and the latter is going to be far more stable. It’s no accident that the most compatible graphics cards you can buy today are from 3dfx (no AGP texturing at all), and that the trend in the industry is toward more and faster local memory. Local memory technologies like embedded DRAM and DDR – massive amounts of it – are probably going to be far more important to future graphics cards than AGP features and enhancements.

Thanks Ashley for spending time with us – I think you helped a lot of our viewers gain a better understanding of how to tweak their video cards.

Email Dan


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