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VGA cards that predate VESA

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First post, by codyw1996

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I'm looking for any VGA card that supports video mode 13 (320*200 256 colors), but predates the VESA spec.
Anyone know of any chip numbers I can search for on eBay, or specific card models.
I think the first ATI VGA Wonder is one such card, but it's rare. I'm guessing all of these cards are pretty rare.

I bought one VGA card with 256K of memory, it ended up being a Paradise VGA PVGA1.
It supports some VESA features, or atleast extended resolutions/bit depths. It can actually support up to 1MB of vram, I think.
I'm looking for a card that doesn't add anything on top of the original VGA spec.

Reply 2 of 23, by codyw1996

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A program i'm writing targets a 386, vga card, and Adlib soundcard.
I have the two other things, just need a classic VGA card.
If I claim to target "VGA", I want to make sure that it works on real VGA hardware (however unlikely it is that a user may have it)

Last edited by codyw1996 on 2019-08-07, 02:51. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 3 of 23, by kjliew

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codyw1996 wrote:

A program i'm writing targets a 386, vga card, and Adlib soundcard.

I have the two other things, just need a classic VGA card.
I just want to ensure that i'm not accidentally calling a DOS function, that is actually intended for VESA cards.

You don't need a 386 to write a program that works on 386.
You don't need to restrict the hardware to VGA to write a program that works on VGA. Just don't use the VESA INT10h, which always start with AX=4Fxxh INT10h.

Reply 4 of 23, by codyw1996

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I reworded my previous post.

I want it to run reasonably well on a 386 DX 33mhz, specifically.
That's what I arbitrarily consider to be a "real DOS machine", that's why I bought the hardware.

There are things like delays that I need to generate between register writes, doubt this would cause any issues, but old hardware is weird.
And of course, I understand that just because it works on one card, doesn't mean that it will work on every card (at the register level)

But maybe, i'm getting a little off topic.

Just let me know if you know of any card.

Reply 5 of 23, by Rawit

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That's going to be difficult as manufactures already dabbled with alternate resolutions quite early, like with your Paradise card. I would focus on cards < 1989.

Perhaps these are interesting, but need additional research:
- Oak OTI-037C;
- Genoa GN007001-A;
- Cirrus Logic CL-GD410/420;
- Cirrus Logic CL-GD510/520;

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Reply 7 of 23, by Grzyb

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I'm only sure about... IBM PS/2 Display Adapter 😁
minuszerodegrees.net/5170/cards/5170_cards.htm#ipda

There's plenty of SVGA cards that don't support VESA BIOS Extensions in their ROM BIOS, I reckon all the 256KB cards.
But even such cards tend to support 800x600x16, 132-column text, register-level CGA and Hercules compatibility...

Hint:
The original VGA has two crystals: 25.175 and 28.321 MHz.
Higher resolutions require additional crystals: 36 MHz (for 800x600@56Hz) and greater.
You can try finding a card that only has the original two.

Reply 8 of 23, by Scali

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codyw1996 wrote:

It supports some VESA features, or atleast extended resolutions/bit depths.

That's not the same thing.
Virtually all non-IBM cards had extra features, commonly known as 'SVGA'.
SVGA was not any kind of standard however, each brand/chip had its own proprietary extended modes and features.

VESA BIOS extensions didn't arrive until much later, as an attempt to extend the original IBM VGA BIOS interface with a common standard for these extended modes and features.

I think if you want real VGA with nothing extra, the only choice is to go with IBM. Either an IBM PS/2 system (and then an early one) with the original VGA chipset, or the 8-bit ISA VGA card that IBM built, their 'PS/2 display adapter'. It uses the same original IBM VGA chip. See here for more info:
https://nerdlypleasures.blogspot.com/20 ... -card.html

Be warned though: these cards are excruciatingly slow, and not well-suited for a 386DX-33. A 386DX-33 would benefit from a nice fast 16-bit Paradise, Tseng Labs or similar card, which is what you'd normally find in decent 386 machines back in the day.
Trident was very popular as a cheap option, and still much faster than the IBM card.

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Reply 9 of 23, by The Serpent Rider

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Virtually all non-IBM cards had extra features, commonly known as 'SVGA

I don't think Chips&Technologies F82C451 had those extra features (maybe only refresh rate via dip switches). That's probably one of the earliest VGA chips ever produced.

EDIT: Actually it predates VESA. VESA was founded in 1989 and F82C451 was produced starting from 1988. So that's your best bet.

Reply 10 of 23, by Scali

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The Serpent Rider wrote:

I don't think Chips&Technologies F82C451 had those extra features (maybe only refresh rate via dip switches). That's probably one of the earliest VGA chips ever produced.

This floppy indicates that it has an 800x600 mode, given that it contains custom drivers for various applications to enable this mode:
https://archive.org/details/ChipsTechno ... tilityDisk

The aforementioned Paradise PVGA1 is also a really early VGA clone, by the way, also dating from 1988. Doesn't really matter much.
Even EGA clones already had custom hires modes before VGA, so VGA clones just picked up where EGA left off.

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Reply 11 of 23, by VileR

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Like others said.. a "no VESA" limitation is kind of arbitrary (there are many other factors that differentiate even early VGA cards), and limitations of this sort won't help you much anyway. Just stick to modes/function calls/IO operations that are part of the VGA standard and you'll be fine. The real concern should be speed, but that of course depends on what your code is trying to do.

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Reply 12 of 23, by Scali

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VileRancour wrote:

The real concern should be speed, but that of course depends on what your code is trying to do.

Yes, and since speed was such a limitation in the ISA era, hardly any game ever made use of more than just the 320x200 mode or some hacked up version (mode X, Y etc) that is still standard VGA.
Only Windows and games that weren't performance-oriented would ever use high resolutions, and possibly SVGA stuff. Such as card games or board games (chess, stratego, mahjong, that sort of thing).
Common games like Wolfenstein, DOOM, Commander Keen, Jazz Jackrabbit, Pinball Fantasies etc are just super-standard VGA, and don't make use of any special features, no matter how fancy a video card you use.

SVGA didn't become a thing until localbus was commonplace, somewhere in the late 486/early Pentium era. With some games like FIFA and Need for Speed offering special support for 640x480 mode in 256 colours. Generally too slow to actually play though, but hey.
This was also around the time that gaming moved to Windows 95, and DirectX basically made VESA BIOS extensions obsolete before they ever saw widespread use.

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Reply 13 of 23, by VileR

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Scali wrote:

Yes, and since speed was such a limitation in the ISA era, hardly any game ever made use of more than just the 320x200 mode or some hacked up version (mode X, Y etc) that is still standard VGA.
Only Windows and games that weren't performance-oriented would ever use high resolutions, and possibly SVGA stuff. Such as card games or board games (chess, stratego, mahjong, that sort of thing).

Hah, yup - I used to get stung all the time when downloading games like that. The FILE_ID.DIZ would go "VGA!!!" and "HIGH RESOLUTION!!" with a bunch of superlatives, I'd imagine something really mindblowing, grab the file, and get a mostly-static 640x480 16-color game in that bare-bones Borland BGI style.

Steve Moraff might've been the only guy who actually bothered to support a large number those pre-VESA SVGA chipsets in his games, but they didn't look great either... although *some* of them look like the user was expected to be on some pretty powerful psychedelics, so I dunno. 😁

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Reply 14 of 23, by codyw1996

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Looks like the Oak OTI-037 doesn't really add anything, other than an 800x600 16 color mode, and 132 column text.
There are a few programming guides documenting it's quirks.
More importantly it's pretty common on eBay.
I'm going to buy one of them, thanks.

Datasheet:
old.vgamuseum.info/images/stories/doc/oak/oti-037.pdf

Registers:
https://github.com/achernya/iap-6.828-w ... oc/OAK.TXT

It was actually released the same year as the PVGA1 (1988), but at least it's a little lower end.

Last edited by codyw1996 on 2019-08-07, 19:47. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 15 of 23, by Scali

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codyw1996 wrote:

Looks like the Oak OTI-037 doesn't really add anything, apparently it supports up to 512k of vram. I'm not sure why at the moment.

The most logical explanation is that it supports higher resolutions, because standard VGA cannot access more than 256k of memory (4 planes of 64k each).
So there would have to be some kind of extension to make the 512k do anything (some kind of bank-switching scheme).

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Reply 16 of 23, by codyw1996

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I didn't realize this up until now, but you can sort cards on old.vgamuseum.info by year and type.

There are three VGA chipsets listed as being released in 1987:

Intel Kama sx094
Cirrus Logic GD-410/420 (sold by Video Seven as the VGA Vega)
Tseng ET3000AX

The Tseng card is actually better than the PVGA1, or the OTI-037
The two other cards aren't listed on eBay.

Last edited by codyw1996 on 2019-08-07, 20:03. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 17 of 23, by Scali

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codyw1996 wrote:

The Tseng card is actually better than the PVGA1, or the OTI-037

OTI/Oak is notoriously bad, just like many Tridents and Realteks.
Paradise was one of the best early VGA clones, as were Cirrus Logic and Tseng Labs.
ATi VGA Wonder was also good. ATi even had an earlier VGA clone in 1987, not sure how good or rare that one is.

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Reply 18 of 23, by elianda

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Scali wrote:
Show quote
codyw1996 wrote:

The Tseng card is actually better than the PVGA1, or the OTI-037

OTI/Oak is notoriously bad, just like many Tridents and Realteks.
Paradise was one of the best early VGA clones, as were Cirrus Logic and Tseng Labs.
ATi VGA Wonder was also good. ATi even had an earlier VGA clone in 1987, not sure how good or rare that one is.

You probably speak of this card: retronn.de/imports/hwgal/hw_graphics_ca ... front.html
It has btw also only two quartzes.

I think if you want to have stock standard VGA, get a IBM PS/2.
All other chips have some sort of extension where 800x600 at 16 color (56? Hz interlaced) is just the most known.
It already starts with EGA/VGA Softsense that most early cards implemented.

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Reply 19 of 23, by Grzyb

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elianda wrote:

All other chips have some sort of extension where 800x600 at 16 color (56? Hz interlaced) is just the most known.

56 Hz NON interlaced.
Interlaced modes were 1024x768 (originally in IBM 8514/A) and above.

Anyway, I think I've found a "VGA clone, and nothing more" card, from Hercules - it's based on Intel 82706 chipset, and its datasheet doesn't mention any modes other than plain VGA, not even register-level CGA compatibility...
www.vgamuseum.info/index.php/component/ ... 0d1e7d7775

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