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Best PCI card for a 486

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First post, by douglar

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I have some only 486 PCI motherboards & Video cards. One of the motherboards is a FIC VIP with a Via 82C505 that does VLB and PCI. That's great for apples to apples bench marks. Ran some benchmarks using an AM5x86 @ 33x4 = 133 and WT cache (couldn't get the WB to work yet) using Landmark Speed Test. Here's what I got, rounded to the nearest 50:

  1. Trident 8900C ~1,000 chr/ms
  2. WD90C31-LR ~1,250 chr/ms
  3. Trident 9400cxi VLB ~8,100 chr/ms
  4. Trident 9440 VLB ~9,950 chr/ms
  5. CL-GD5429 VLB ~10,500 chr/ms
  6. S3 Trio64+ PCI ~11,00 chr/ms
  7. Tseng 4000w32P PCI ~11,500 chr/ms
  8. Matrix Mystique PCI ~12,000 chr/ms

Looks like the PCI boards are edging out the VLB boards for DOS. I have not figured out how to get any of these cards to do wide screen in Windows 3.1 / Windows 98 yet.

I have a 1 notch Permedia 2V PCI card, but I could not test, it seems to have passed away =(

I have some PCI cards from this century ( Radeon 9250, Radeon x1300), but they are "2 notch" PCI cards. These cards work on Pentium motherboards, but on the 486 boards, I hear HD seeks like the computer is booting but I don't get any video signal on the VGA or DVI out. This is likely a PCI v2.0 issue or something, yes? I'm guessing that "2 notch" PCI cards just not are going to work in the old boards.

I'm looking for something that still has good DOS performance and compatibility that can handle a wide screen in some version of windows.

Looking through the pictures in the Vogon Wiki, looks like the cut off points for the 1 notch PCI boards are:

I guess out of that list, the Geforce 2MX PCI seems like the most available and has the best chance at wide screen monitor support.

Does that sound right?

Reply 2 of 23, by Jasin Natael

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I'm using a ATi Rage Pro XL PCI in my 486 - am486-dx4100.

It's the only compatible card I had on hand other than a Trident when I put it together.

It seems to work well enough in DOS and has decent Windows 3.11 support when using Mach64 drivers.

I haven't benchmarked it much though I could probably fire it up and run some for you if you would like?

They are pretty cheap and easy to find as they were used in lots of servers even up until the last 10 years or so.

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Reply 3 of 23, by dirkmirk

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The voodoo 3 3000 works in 486 motherboards and is a 2 notch card, dont know what the notches signify but most other more modern pci cards definitely dont work.

Me personally I use an S3 TRIO 32(or 64?), the particular one I use has a great image quality and 2meg, Ram is not a big deal unless you want higher resolution in windows but yeah no biggie.

Reply 4 of 23, by The Serpent Rider

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Best PCI card is the one, which can tolerate 50Mhz bus. S3 Virge, Nvidia, maybe Matrox Millenium II.

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Reply 5 of 23, by douglar

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The silk screen labels on this motherboard claims it can be jumpered to do a 66mhz fsb with async memory. Seems a little scary though. I dont want to fry my video cards.

Is there an objective way to test image quality?

Reply 6 of 23, by The Serpent Rider

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I dont want to fry my video cards.

You can't fry them that way.

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Reply 7 of 23, by douglar

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Thanks for the helpful feed back and the assurance that high bus speeds won’t fry my old video cards.

I’d love to see the bench marks for the rage pci card. Are you able to do 1680x1050 resolution in Windows?

And if the notches don’t predict PCI v1.0 compatibility, is there some other way besides trial and error to figure out what will work with 486 PCI motherboards?

Reply 8 of 23, by The Serpent Rider

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Trial or error.

Matrox - compatible up to Matrox G200.
S3 - everything.
3dfx - everything.
ATI - probably compatible up to Radeon 7000 PCI.
Nvidia - compatible up to GeForce 4 MX or Quadro 4.
SIS - probably everything.
PowerVR - Kyro I PCI cards might be compatible.
Trident - probably everything.

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Reply 9 of 23, by AvalonH

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Radeon 9200 PCI 128MB and Nvidia NVS 280 PCI (circa 2005) both work in my Asus AP4 486. Don't have any problems with vga compatibility or vesa games using them.
Most don't agree with this but I would say use the most modern card that works because image quality will be vastly better. As a quick test for image quality I just boot and go to the bios screen, most older cards like the Trio/Virge/Ati rage etc produce fuzzy screens with vertical streaks that shows up on the bios screens garish background. This is much more noticeable when connected to LCDs via vga. It gets worse at higher resolutions.
With older cards (pre 1994) the Matrox Impression Plus and Stealth 64 Video Vram (S3 968 version) are as good for image quality as the much newer Radeon 9200. Generally get a a card with a >175 mhz ramdac.

Reply 10 of 23, by brostenen

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I had a FIC VIP IO board at some point. (Had to sell it)

What I found, is that VLB are faster than PCI on these multi-slot boards, and that FIC that I had, was no exception at all.
Yet if you really are going for PCI card on a 486, then I have found that the best you can get, is an CL-5446-PCI.
Some say S3's are faster, yet they will not outperform an 5446, before you go for something like Pentium-166 or faster.
Yes, that is with UniVBE installed. Yet without TSR and other stuff that eats mem on MS Dos 6.22, you are better off with 5446.

Another issue with S3's, are that on some makers, you do not get perfect black level and so on.
It is more or less just a question on taste. So my goto PCI cards for late era 486 to around Pentium-166 are:

- Cirrus Logic 5446
- S3-Trio64v+
- S3-Virge325

You can not go wrong with eighter of those cards, and the differences are more or less up to personal taste.

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Reply 11 of 23, by clueless1

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I agree with brostenen. The CL 5446 is a really good DOS card. Speed is upper tier, compatibility is perfect, and no black level issues like with some S3's. I have benchmarks of it (on a Pentium platform) in the link on my signature.

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Reply 12 of 23, by The Serpent Rider

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Speed is upper tier, compatibility is perfect

Speed may fluctuate a bit from card to card, regardless of chip manufacturer. Some cards are clocked higher and will perform better.

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Reply 13 of 23, by matze79

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brostenen wrote on 2020-01-01, 19:58:
It is more or less just a question on taste. So my goto PCI cards for late era 486 to around Pentium-166 are: […]
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It is more or less just a question on taste. So my goto PCI cards for late era 486 to around Pentium-166 are:

- Cirrus Logic 5446
- S3-Trio64v+
- S3-Virge325

You can not go wrong with eighter of those cards, and the differences are more or less up to personal taste.

Skip S3 unless you want to load a tsr for full speed

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Reply 14 of 23, by The Serpent Rider

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Skip S3 unless you want to load a tsr for full speed

Not all S3 cards are affected though and it's only 1Kb of memory which isn't crucial for any 486 system anyway.
BTW you won't even notice any performance drop unless you have powerful CPU like 5x86 150+ or Cyrix.

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Reply 15 of 23, by feipoa

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dirkmirk wrote on 2020-01-01, 03:28:

The voodoo 3 3000 works in 486 motherboards and is a 2 notch card, dont know what the notches signify but most other more modern pci cards definitely dont work.

I've only been able to get the Voodoo3 working in SiS 496/497-based PCI 486 motherboards. There may be some compatibility issue with UMC 8881/8886-based boards and the Voodoo3. If you are going for 3D, a Voodoo2 will still work though.

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Reply 16 of 23, by Disruptor

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I've got 25850 chr/ms with my ET6000 on my 5x86/160 (40 MHz PCI).
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Last edited by Disruptor on 2020-01-04, 02:54. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 17 of 23, by douglar

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Disruptor wrote on 2020-01-03, 18:47:

I've got 25850 chr/us with my ET6000 on my 5x86/160 (40 MHz PCI).

Nice. When I run that benchmark on a 350mhz Pentium II, all of the PCI cards register at about 20,000 chr/us, so I gotta think that may be close to the practical limit for the 33Mhz PCI bus. Seems like going to 40MHz let's you get past that limit.

Reply 18 of 23, by Disruptor

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douglar wrote on 2020-01-04, 02:36:
Disruptor wrote on 2020-01-03, 18:47:

I've got 25850 chr/us with my ET6000 on my 5x86/160 (40 MHz PCI).

Nice. When I run that benchmark on a 350mhz Pentium II, all of the PCI cards register at about 20,000 chr/us, so I gotta think that may be close to the practical limit for the 33Mhz PCI bus. Seems like going to 40MHz let's you get past that limit.

I've got more test results for you.
Tested my ET6000 at 21350 chr/ms with my 5x86/133 (33 MHz PCI), L1 = WB, L2 = WB
Tested my ET6000 at 21350 chr/ms with my 5x86/133 (33 MHz PCI), L1 = WB, L2 = WT
Tested my ET6000 at 21350 chr/ms with my 5x86/133 (33 MHz PCI), L1 = OFF, L2 = OFF
But when I switch Host-to-PCI Burst Write off, the score drops to 16100 chr/ms.
When I add a Host-to-PCI Waitstate, there is no change.

Reply 19 of 23, by brostenen

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matze79 wrote on 2020-01-02, 14:56:
brostenen wrote on 2020-01-01, 19:58:
It is more or less just a question on taste. So my goto PCI cards for late era 486 to around Pentium-166 are: […]
Show full quote

It is more or less just a question on taste. So my goto PCI cards for late era 486 to around Pentium-166 are:

- Cirrus Logic 5446
- S3-Trio64v+
- S3-Virge325

You can not go wrong with eighter of those cards, and the differences are more or less up to personal taste.

Skip S3 unless you want to load a tsr for full speed

I always go for CL-5446 on a 486 system with PCI as I have no need to set up any TSR or Driver if one like to call it that way.
As few things running in the background as possible, is the best way to go about things if I set up MS Dos 6.22
Second choice is of course S3-Virge325 and then comes Trio64v+. I use the Virge because it is a Number9 branded card.

Don't eat stuff off a 15 year old never cleaned cpu cooler.
Those cakes make you sick....

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001100 010010 011110 100001 101101 110011

Jah ich will trynen... Die Leute wie macht scheisse in dem Grünen.