Upgrading and tweaking M571 Video

The M571 3.2, 3.2a, and 7.0 motherboards have an onboard video capability that is supported by the SiS 5597/5598 chipset. By changing CMOS settings, 1 MB, 2 MB, 3 MB, or 4 MB of system RAM can be allocated for video memory. The CPU provides video processing when onboard video is used, offering various refresh rates up to 70 MHz.

"Borrowing" system memory is a performance limiting strategy, and the M571 is no exception. There are two reasons for this. First, system memory is not optimized for video use, as is the specialized memory used on video cards. Secondly, Any use of memory on the M571 is a cause for concern, because newer applications are more memory intensive and the M571 only supports 128 MB (officially).

The same issues that are faced when using system memory for video capability also apply to the using the processor for video graphics processing: It is not optimized for video calculations and the M571 doesn’t have an abundance of processing power, especially when newer applications are being run.

Finally, The newest drivers for the onboard video capability are several years old. They have not been improved for performance or for newer operating systems.

Since many inexpensive PCI video cards are still available, installing a video card is a good place to begin upgrading an M571 based system. Onboard video is usually not amenable to increased PCI bus speeds, so if this upgrade method is in your plans and you intend to overclock the Front Side Bus speed to 75 MHz or 83.3 MHz, consideration should be given to selecting a PCI video card that will permit operation at the faster PCI bus speeds that result from overclocking the Front Side Bus.

The 3dfx "Voodoo" cards were great performers for their time. PCI versions of the Voodoo 3 2000, 3 3000, 3 3500, 4 4500, and 5 5500 are all well supported by many web sites today, which present many tips, tweaks, and overclocking techniques. Some consider the 4 4500 (32 MB video memory) and 5 5500 (64 MB video memory and dual processors) to be more than a finely tuned M571 can actually use. In other words, the most powerful processor that can be used on an M571 still cannot supply enough data to keep up with the capacity of these cards. They also place somewhat more load on the cpu, something that should be avoided at all costs on an M571. The 5500, because of its dual processor configuration, has enough power to enable FSAA (Full Screen Anti Aliasing) without suffering any reduction in frame rate. These cards still command high prices on Ebay; expect to pay between $75 to $120 for one. A Voodoo 3 3000 with 16 MB is usually regarded as a good match for an M571 system, especially if upgraded. One must keep in mind that Voodoos don't have factory support for new drivers, however.

The upper end of video cards available in PCI form that are still available new today is represented by the nVidia GeForce MX2 400 (32 MB and 64 MB) and the ATI Radeon based products. Some users are partial to the Kyro II, but these are considered to require a fast processor for best results. Search message boards for user comments before making a selection. There is very little reliable performance information on PCI video cards in Socket 7 systems. Discussions held by Super Socket 7 users address AGP video cards, but may give an idea of how a specific video processor interacts with an AMD K6 2 or K6 3 processor. The somewhat lower performance of PCI video must be factored into the information presented. For example, the VooDoo 5500, which falls in the category of high performance cards, was introduced at the time AGP slots were first introduced. One of the complaints about them was that they were nothing more than a PCI card modified to install in an AGP slot. So, you might have more interest in 5500 AGP/SS7 ratings.

Be aware that the capability of the fastest available processor that can be used on an M571 limits the practical power of video processing. From the perspective of ATI Radeon based cards, 7000 and 7500 cards probably represent the limit: beyond this, more video processing power is wasted, as the cpu cannot deliver the amount of data the video card can use. However, if you can get a more powerful card cheaply enough and you can get it to work, there is no reason that a more powerful card should not be used.

A brief discussion of video processing

Your video upgrade should be governed by the tasks you expect to run on your M571 system. You will often hear experts divide applications into two types: Business applications, and Games. Business applications are affected by the video card’s “2D”, or two dimensional, performance, while games usually make use of a video card’s “3D”, or three dimensional, performance.


For the business application user, Microsoft Office 2000, or more recently, Office XP, requires more resources than earlier DOS-based versions that were offered in the 90s. Excel graphs and Powerpoint presentations are examples of applications that have come to tax system video capabilities more than ever. For the gamer, newer and more realistic 3D rendering of scenes taxes an M571 system to its limit, and frequently beyond.


What one might do to meet these two needs on an M571 can sometimes be two different solutions.


Business and other 2D applications

I suggest that you look for 8 MB video cards as a minimum for satisfactory performance in an M571 system. Rage Pro, S3, and many other older graphic processors can provide respectable performance for many business applications. Web research can help narrow a search for suitable candidates, whether new or used. I've personally had good service from an ATI xpert@play 8 MB card at both normal and overclocked PCI bus speeds, but many other cards could prove just as successful.

The VooDoo 3 3000 and other such 16 MB cards would come close to supplying the upper end needs of the business user. Matrox cards also bear attention because of their high fidelity display of graphical applications, such as Visio.

Gaming and 3D applications

One of the key attributes of a video card of interest to the gamer is Fill Rate, or how many pixtels of the display can be “painted” in a given time. The two greatest influences here are the processing capability of the Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) and the video memory of the video card. Additionally, video memory is configured differently from normal system RAM, which allows the video memory to be refreshed more efficiently. (This is one reason why system memory does not function well as video memory.)

Cards in the gaming category usually have 32 to 64 MB of video memory. The lowest limit for most modern games would be 16 MB, like the favorite VooDoo 3 3000. However, the 16 MB of the 3000 limits the VooDoo to 16 bit color at 1024x768 resolution. Cards like this could be considered a low end and low budget solution to gaming.

Radeon tweaking

A number of Radeon tweaking programs are available to increase the installed performance of Radeon based video cards. I personally have used Radeon Tweaker on my systems (radeontweaker homepage), equipped with a Radeon 7000 DDR 64MB card and a Radeon SDR 32 MB card, with satisfactory results. If you choose another video card product, I suggest you search for tweaking tools suitable for these products if top gaming performance is an important need to you.



This page was last modified on 19 July 2004