Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

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Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-11 @ 03:22

Hello retro friends! :)

I was wondering...

Remember that in the good old days we were all puzzled by the following to be or not to be situation:

• Either go with older SVGA cards which are great for DOS performance and DOS games (of course the first example that comes up is the Tseng ET4000), but suffer under Windows 3.xx, Windows 3.xx games, and slightly more modern games
• Or go with the at the time brand new novelty "windows accelerator" SVGA cards (S3, Number Nine, and companies, etc.) but suffer slower performances under DOS and DOS games. At this regard I reviewed tons of benchmarks on very old PC magazines and saw that all the beautiful Windows Accelerator cards really sucked under DOS.

I was wondering:
Going a little "over" time and installing in a 486 and a P1 system (MS-DOS 6.22 and Win 3.11 for workgroup) a PCI SVGA that is a little mode modern (less retro), like that for those '90-'93 years would really be like a beast, would brute-force DOS performances in such a way that, even if it is a "windows accelerator" graphic card (Actually even more modern), and even if the whatever old DOS apps and games do not have specific drivers, via brute force it would still give astonishing performances and completely fill the gap, as if there was installed the bestest of the best ever MS-DOS SVGA card and, for each DOS game and app, such card having the specific drivers?
Like, even if the card's not optimized, the drivers are generic, so that DOS game whatever (even 3D) would have to have the SVGA make nutty turns to get from A to B instead of going in a straight line, who cares, the DOS-relative gazillioned clock or computing power of the card would compensate and pass the requrements, more or less...

If so, what would that (or those) card(s) be, without going TOOOOO modern, and with an eye con crash-issues prevention?

Thanks a lot!
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby BinaryDemon » 2019-2-11 @ 04:42

I'd be curious what Win 3.11 games you are playing where you need a windows accelerator. I guess at the time 95% of my gaming was dos based, and the only games I played in Win 3.11 were casual time killers like SkiFree, Jezzball, and Snood.
Check out DOSBox Distro:

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a lightweight Linux distro (tinycore) which boots off a usb flash drive and goes straight to DOSBox.

Make your dos retrogaming experience portable!
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby oohms » 2019-2-11 @ 05:13

There is no reason a windows accelerator card can't work well in DOS (and better than a lot of older cards)

https://web.archive.org/web/20190119001 ... DOS_TESTS/

A write combining enabler like fastvid will give you a performance boost
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby kjliew » 2019-2-11 @ 06:47

oohms wrote:A write combining enabler like fastvid will give you a performance boost

Write combine does not apply for 486/586 or older. It requires at least a P6 class CPU, and for that era DOS was no longer the focus for games. In those days, display on DOS was just a hardware interface to the frame buffer and higher resolution than VGA. There wasn't a lot of accelerated drawing functions in hardware for BitBlt, PolyFill, LineTo etc. Even today's CPU at over 3GHz coupled with high-speed DDR4 memory is much faster than any video ASICs in the DOS era.

QEMU/DOSBox can emulate VESA VBE linear frame buffer faster than any add-in cards on ISA/VLB/PCI in the 486/586 era. So what's the point for DOS performance without GUI elements acceleration?
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-11 @ 15:09

BinaryDemon wrote:I'd be curious what Win 3.11 games you are playing where you need a windows accelerator. I guess at the time 95% of my gaming was dos based, and the only games I played in Win 3.11 were casual time killers like SkiFree, Jezzball, and Snood.


No idea yet! I know it sounds odd, here's the thing (See below ↓↓↓)

oohms wrote:There is no reason a windows accelerator card can't work well in DOS (and better than a lot of older cards)
https://web.archive.org/web/20190119001 ... DOS_TESTS/
A write combining enabler like fastvid will give you a performance boost


Thanks, please see below ↓↓↓

kjliew wrote:
oohms wrote:A write combining enabler like fastvid will give you a performance boost

Write combine does not apply for 486/586 or older. It requires at least a P6 class CPU, and for that era DOS was no longer the focus for games. In those days, display on DOS was just a hardware interface to the frame buffer and higher resolution than VGA. There wasn't a lot of accelerated drawing functions in hardware for BitBlt, PolyFill, LineTo etc. Even today's CPU at over 3GHz coupled with high-speed DDR4 memory is much faster than any video ASICs in the DOS era.

QEMU/DOSBox can emulate VESA VBE linear frame buffer faster than any add-in cards on ISA/VLB/PCI in the 486/586 era. So what's the point for DOS performance without GUI elements acceleration?


Thanks for the detailed reply, kjliew!


So, guys, to answer to your points: I don't have a specific Windows game. Here's what I meant.
All I know is that back in those days, as "Windows Accelerator" graphic cards and "coprocessor" graphic cards were being released (S3 911, Cirrus Logic GD5426 and GD5428, Number9 128 bit, etc.), people and labs started testing and running benchmarks.
The benchmark results in Windows "environment" were stunning at almost all resolutions. But the DOS Benchmarks were much SLOWER if compared with the same DOS Benchmarks (same computer, CPU, etc.) using slightly older Frame Buffer SVGAs like the Tseng ET4000/xx and few others.

So, basically, the heart of my question was:

A SVGA card that, although is a "Windows Accelerator" card that fast in Windows and Windows-like software, can still achieve those higher benchmark results that the previous DOS-specific best SVGA cards were able to achieve.


Thank you all!
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby dionb » 2019-2-11 @ 16:02

S3 Vision 86x, 96x, Trio or Virge a "novelty Windows accelerator" :?

Those S3 cards had the best DOS compatibility, bar none, and excellent performance, if perhaps a tiny bit slower than Tseng, although Tseng had more issues.

If you want similar compatibility and similar performance from a newer option, look into PCI nVidia cards - a Riva128 or TNT(2) will blow away any of the older Windows accelerators, and nVidia did an excellent job with VESA/DOS compatibility.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-11 @ 16:21

dionb wrote:S3 Vision 86x, 96x, Trio or Virge a "novelty Windows accelerator" :?

Those S3 cards had the best DOS compatibility, bar none, and excellent performance, if perhaps a tiny bit slower than Tseng, although Tseng had more issues.

If you want similar compatibility and similar performance from a newer option, look into PCI nVidia cards - a Riva128 or TNT(2) will blow away any of the older Windows accelerators, and nVidia did an excellent job with VESA/DOS compatibility.


Interesting, thanks man!


dionb wrote:S3 Vision 86x, 96x, Trio or Virge a "novelty Windows accelerator" :?


Oh no, with "novelty Windows accelerator" I meant those as soon as Windows Accelerator cards started coming out, such as: S3911, S3805, Ati Mach32, Cirrus Logic GD5426 and GD5428, Number Nine #9 Imagine 128-bit, and similar. I remember, I was reading every new monthly issue of PC Professionale (Italian equivalent of PC Magazine) and they came out with all these new things about "Windows Accelerator" or "accelerated" graphic cards.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby chinny22 » 2019-2-11 @ 17:02

I grew up with a Dx2/66 that had a VLB Mach64 and it did just fine
While benchmarks will show it was a bit slower, and sure I may have got an extra fps or 2 with a faster card, really it was the 486 that limited the games more then the graphics card.

This changed with the Pentium and 3D gaming, but this crosses into Win9x and 3dFX or its competitors territory and dos days were coming to an end
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-11 @ 17:08

thanks!
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby Jo22 » 2019-2-11 @ 17:51

There's one thing that keeps me from using PCI cards in a pure DOS system:
I haven't found one yet that has a mode utility that allows for switching to CGA/Hercules graphics emulation modes.
Another "iisue" is the lack of SVGA support in older titles. Trident 8900/V7 Vega /Trident ET3K/K4 were among the supported cards,
but they were all ISA. While a Trio64 or ViRGE works very well in normal VGA modes and QVGA games like Commander Keen, Descent etc.,
they don't support the older 800x600 SVGA mode that some flight sims or adventures supported.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining - it's just an issue that bothered me for a longer time.
My only work around -in theory- so far was by combining an good old VGA card with a secondary CAD card,
like one of these TIGA or 8514/A adapters. Again, just some thoughts of mine.
I haven't yet done any benchmarks and CAD card were less about speed rather than performance
(ie unburden the CPU or bus system of load; higher resolutions and colour depths, more complex fonts, etc.)
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-11 @ 17:56

Interesting, never head about those CAD cards, thanks.
Also thanks for those hints. Well, in my case they wouldn't be a problem. I really don't care about CGA/Hercules modes.
Though I didn't know no 800x600 SVGA in those cards, that's bad!

I wonder how an S3 Vision 968 PCI would perform in the most demanding DOS-era games... and in DOS benchmarks.

I also saw interesting accelerated SVGA cards which also add a Cirrus Logic GD5422 chip, my guess is that chip is used by the card in DOS mode.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby kjliew » 2019-2-12 @ 02:53

Jo22 wrote:There's one thing that keeps me from using PCI cards in a pure DOS system:
I haven't found one yet that has a mode utility that allows for switching to CGA/Hercules graphics emulation modes.

IBM VGA is always backward compatible with CGA/EGA. The only problem was the Hercules Monochrome Graphics, because it was the highest resolution display mode at that time at 720x480. IBM VGA highest resolution is 640x480 (mode 12h). The only advantage of Hercules Monochrome Graphics was crispier console text output and better Japanese/Korean/Chinese characters output due to high resolution. Well, some researches also mentioned that it was more healthy for the eyes for those working long hours in front of the terminal.

Jo22 wrote:Another "issue" is the lack of SVGA support in older titles. Trident 8900/V7 Vega /Trident ET3K/K4 were among the supported cards,
but they were all ISA.

Well, it couldn't be attributed as an issue. It was a general deficiency of technology at that particular time because IBM had chosen to close the door for any subsequent display standards (8514/A and XGA) after they lost the controls of IBM PC to the clones manufacturers. By the way, SuperVGA was never a standard, it was just a general term coined to describe capabilities beyond the IBM VGA. Until VESA was formed to standardize display interface beyond IBM VGA, there was no way to access high resolution/colors graphics above 640x480x4bpp (VGA mode 12h) and 320x200x8bpp (VGA mode 13h) supported by IBM VGA.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-12 @ 03:54

Thanks!
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby dionb » 2019-2-12 @ 22:21

aries-mu wrote:[...]

Oh no, with "novelty Windows accelerator" I meant those as soon as Windows Accelerator cards started coming out, such as: S3911, S3805, Ati Mach32, Cirrus Logic GD5426 and GD5428, Number Nine #9 Imagine 128-bit, and similar. I remember, I was reading every new monthly issue of PC Professionale (Italian equivalent of PC Magazine) and they came out with all these new things about "Windows Accelerator" or "accelerated" graphic cards.

The only one of that list that could be considered "novelty" is the Imagine 128. The rest are just regular old SVGA chipsets, very old in some cases.

- S3 911 was S3's very first video chip, and a notoriously slow one at that.
- S3 805 was S3's first ISA DRAM design. Not too bad for its day, but that day was long ago.
- ATi Mach32 was - as the name suggests - an ISA design with 32b core. Not terrible, but not much better than S3's 805.
- Cirrus Logic GD5426 was their mid-range VLB chipset, the GD5428 the 'high-end' version, but hardly noticeable faster. Performance was considered mediocre at best in any OS.

The Imagine 128 was a monster though, years ahead of most other designs, but extremely expensive and specialized - with hardly any thought given to DOS, as that wasn't its target OS. Note that it's still supported under Linux, new drivers were released in 2018 :o

Other typical "Windows-only" accelerators (once again, were things like the Weitek P9000/P9100 series. They didn't even have a regular VGA mode, which meant that they were generally paired with a (very) low-end VGA chip for VGA/DOS. Certainly, Diamond chose the slowest Oak design they could find, so in DOS you weren't even running the Weitek, just the Oak, with performance to match.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby Jo22 » 2019-2-12 @ 23:23

kjliew wrote:IBM VGA is always backward compatible with CGA/EGA.

Well, yes and no. IBM VGA had a fake CGA support included by design, but it is high-level, only.
It does not support any Motorola 6845 features at the register level.

This causes problems with certain palettes, for example.
On a VGA card you'll often get the Cyan, Magenta, White palette only.

Early Super EGA or VGA cards thus inlcuded an emulation mode for EGA, CGA and Hercules.
If then one of these modes were selected in the mode utility, such a card tried to mimic these standards at a much lower level.
It also disabled any VGA-specifc features, so VGA-aware games did not detect a VGA card (same for EGA).

(Btw, In oder for clone VGA cards to comply 100% to VGA, they have to inlude the same limited CGA emulation the original IBM VGA had.)

Edit:
kjliew wrote:By the way, SuperVGA was never a standard, it was just a general term coined to describe capabilities beyond the IBM VGA.

Yes, but it's just half of the story. The 800x600 16 color mode was kinda popular, even before VESA. A pseudo-standard, so to say.
While it's true that the mode varieed from manufacturer to manufacturer, some card makers decided to mimic the more popular
800x600x16 modies/bitmap-memory layout. 800x600@16c was also unique in that it had got a 7-bit video mode number by VESA (6Ah).
So in order to support SVGA, a game didn't have to support "all" SVGA cards on the market, but just a few implementations or VBE 1.x (mode 6Ah).
If no advanced things like bankswitching were used, it was even simpler - all it needed was the correct hex video mode (16c modes can use the default color set).
In another thread there was a patch to VBE for a game that supported V7 VEGA/Paradise, if my memory serves me well.

Edit: Now that I think of it, maybe it could be possible to patch some VBE TSRs like S3VBE to add an alias for the Paradie 800x600 16c mode to 6Ah..
That way, at least a few SVGA games might run on the S3 Trio or ViGRE.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-13 @ 00:18

dionb wrote:The only one of that list that could be considered "novelty" is the Imagine 128. The rest are just regular old SVGA chipsets, very old in some cases.

- S3 911 was S3's very first video chip, and a notoriously slow one at that.
- S3 805 was S3's first ISA DRAM design. Not too bad for its day, but that day was long ago.
- ATi Mach32 was - as the name suggests - an ISA design with 32b core. Not terrible, but not much better than S3's 805.
- Cirrus Logic GD5426 was their mid-range VLB chipset, the GD5428 the 'high-end' version, but hardly noticeable faster. Performance was considered mediocre at best in any OS.

The Imagine 128 was a monster though, years ahead of most other designs, but extremely expensive and specialized - with hardly any thought given to DOS, as that wasn't its target OS. Note that it's still supported under Linux, new drivers were released in 2018 :o

Other typical "Windows-only" accelerators (once again, were things like the Weitek P9000/P9100 series. They didn't even have a regular VGA mode, which meant that they were generally paired with a (very) low-end VGA chip for VGA/DOS. Certainly, Diamond chose the slowest Oak design they could find, so in DOS you weren't even running the Weitek, just the Oak, with performance to match.


Wow, very useful analysis, thanks!
Well, there were also Imagine 128 cards with a Cirrus GD5422 chip on them. I guess the Cirrus chip was for VGA/DOS mode. If on PCI bus, that shouldn't be too bad for DOS.
Wow, you massacred S3 and Cirrus chips! That definitely wasn't the feeling PC magazines gave me in 1993 when those cards started to be released. The feeling was like the kind of new products, a new generation of cards, the accelerated cards... Anyway!
Thank you too, Jo22.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby dionb » 2019-2-13 @ 19:02

aries-mu wrote:[...]

Wow, very useful analysis, thanks!
Well, there were also Imagine 128 cards with a Cirrus GD5422 chip on them. I guess the Cirrus chip was for VGA/DOS mode. If on PCI bus, that shouldn't be too bad for DOS.
Wow, you massacred S3 and Cirrus chips! That definitely wasn't the feeling PC magazines gave me in 1993 when those cards started to be released. The feeling was like the kind of new products, a new generation of cards, the accelerated cards... Anyway!

Lies, great lies and marketing ;)

That said, you have to see stuff in context:
- even back in 1993, pure DOS was legacy. You don't need >=1MB of video memory and support for higher resolutions if you're just pushing 320x240 around. Windows 3.x was the frontier for graphics, and performance there was a different matter. The DOS champions were WD and Tseng, neither of whom were particularly good at Win3.1, let alone later windows.
- S3 805 and ATi Mach32 weren't bad or slow in their day, but they were a few years older than the rest. No surprise that newer cards beat them.
- Cirrus Logic chips were aimed at general purpose stuff, not gaming. They were never the fastest but never the slowest either.

The only truly slow card - even in its day - on that list is the S3 911, but that doesn't make S3 bad, or for that matter make me biased against S3. S3 occasionally messed up in later years (Virge/VX... Savage2000...), but in the mid 1990s they sold more chips than anyone else and for goo reason: they had the best drivers and if not the best performance, at least very competitive performance at a good price. In 1994 you'd want to have an S3 868 over just about anything else, in 1995 you'd want a Trio64. Only once 3D became a 'thing' did S3 deliver too little, too buggy, too late, and even there, the Virge cards were good entry-level stuff you could pair a Voodoo with if needed.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-13 @ 20:22

dionb wrote:Lies, great lies and marketing ;)

That said, you have to see stuff in context:
- even back in 1993, pure DOS was legacy. You don't need >=1MB of video memory and support for higher resolutions if you're just pushing 320x240 around. Windows 3.x was the frontier for graphics, and performance there was a different matter. The DOS champions were WD and Tseng, neither of whom were particularly good at Win3.1, let alone later windows.
- S3 805 and ATi Mach32 weren't bad or slow in their day, but they were a few years older than the rest. No surprise that newer cards beat them.
- Cirrus Logic chips were aimed at general purpose stuff, not gaming. They were never the fastest but never the slowest either.

The only truly slow card - even in its day - on that list is the S3 911, but that doesn't make S3 bad, or for that matter make me biased against S3. S3 occasionally messed up in later years (Virge/VX... Savage2000...), but in the mid 1990s they sold more chips than anyone else and for goo reason: they had the best drivers and if not the best performance, at least very competitive performance at a good price. In 1994 you'd want to have an S3 868 over just about anything else, in 1995 you'd want a Trio64. Only once 3D became a 'thing' did S3 deliver too little, too buggy, too late, and even there, the Virge cards were good entry-level stuff you could pair a Voodoo with if needed.


Always very useful and organized, thanks!! ↑↑↑

OMGOSH! I could never imagine computer magazines were lying!!!

Ok, then I guess among S3 Vision 868, S3 964, and S3 Trio64 one should have everything covered for a 1990-1995 computer and DOS and Win3.xx software and games.
I only wonder now if, for example: say you take a DOS game from 1994 or 1993. Say you run the SETUP.EXE file of such a DOS game and the program, being older, in the VIDEO CARD setup section, in the S3 sub-section, doesn't show the Vision 868 or Vision 964 or Trio64 as they didn't exist yet. And say I don't want to use a generic SVGA setting. I wonder if, by selecting the latest S3 it's gonna have (for example 911 or 805 or 928), it's gonna work like S3-optimized even with an S3 Vision 868 or Vision 964, or at least still better than if I use the generic SVGA setting (being the same chip manufacturer, although a different model).
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby dionb » 2019-2-13 @ 20:57

Generally, S3's stuff was backwards-compatible, so you can certainly try. Worst-case it won't run or would perform badly, best-case you'll get the best out of it.
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Re: Filling the DOS gap of Windows Accelerator SVGA cards

Postby aries-mu » 2019-2-13 @ 21:02

dionb wrote:Generally, S3's stuff was backwards-compatible, so you can certainly try. Worst-case it won't run or would perform badly, best-case you'll get the best out of it.


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