VOGONS


First post, by Swiego

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I have a couple of Tsing ET4000AX cards that work fairly well on late 386 to ~PODP5V83 machines. I’ve been wondering if there is any better performance to be had if ISA is my only expansion option. I see high prices for some cards... CL-GD5434, Rage64, etc. but in searching for benchmarks to guide me, most guides (a) suggest that ET4000-class cards represent the max DOS performance available even on far faster systems than I am worrying about but (b) tend to leave out the top CL and ATI options... maybe others too.

I guess my question is simple... for DOS games, in the space from 386 to say ~P133, is there a sizable cluster of ISA video cards that all plateau at a similar performance level such that if you have one you needn’t look for another, or are there a select few that break past the pack and merit their high resale value?

Reply 1 of 25, by candle_86

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Your limited by the Isa bus Beyond a certain point it's no longer useful. For 486 you want vlb as even a Trident vlb is faster than any isa, and for Pentium class you want pci

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Reply 2 of 25, by Jo22

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candle_86 wrote on 2020-07-02, 12:47:

Your limited by the Isa bus Beyond a certain point it's no longer useful. For 486 you want vlb as even a Trident vlb is faster than any isa, and for Pentium class you want pci

I think the same. VLB is as crude or non-smart as ISA, just faster / has a higher bandwidth.

I like to think of it as as an extension of ISA, similar to the 16-Bit connector portion of ISA.

So if you can, go VLB. Or run a buffered VGA card on an overclocked ISA bus (10-16MHz).
That'the range that the readme file of MOD4WIN suggested, if memory serves..

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Reply 3 of 25, by jesolo

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Totally agree with what has been stated. For a 486 or higher, rather get a VLB or PCI card.
Most 386 motherboards only had 16-bit ISA slots (a very few also had VLB slots, but those would normally be your "hybrid" motherboards that could accept both 386 or 486 CPU's).

Speaking purely from a 16-bit ISA card perspective, an ET4000AX is a good choice.
Another option would be a card like your Cirrus Logic cards, based on the CL-GD5426 or CL-GD5428 chipsets. I've found that my Cirrus Logic cards tends to display much clearer on my LCD display (i.e., less interference) than my ET4000 cards.

Reply 4 of 25, by BSA Starfire

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Best speed I have found for 386 was a Western digital WDC90C30 512K, it has no problems with scrolling on commander Keen games or other compatibility issues(the Tseng while FAST is known to have some compatibility problems with certain games of the era). There is also a WDC90C31 that has Windows accelerator functions, I don't have one of these though to comment on them exactly but might be nice if your a keen Windows 3xx user.
I actually really like the OAK OTI-077 cards too, they aren't that fast, but they do have good compatibility, good drivers and at least the card I have has excellent image quality even on LCD screens.
The Trident cards also have their advantages, super compatible, a simple TSR to get VERY good CGA/Hercules modes that will run many old games also. I'd stick with the 8900 cards, they tend to be better quality(Super VGA was an fairly expensive luxury back when they were made) and are the fastest options of the Trident cards(9000 series are slower despite being newer).
I ran a few tests on a 386 a few years back and here is the thread from back then.
Re: WDC VGA 16 (WD90C00-JK)

But honestly the Tseng cards you have are probably as good as far as pure speed as you'll get!

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Reply 5 of 25, by The Serpent Rider

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or are there a select few that break past the pack and merit their high resale value?

It's not that simple. Some cards might be fast, but won't work, should you try to overclock ISA bus. While less fast card might work just fine and will be overall faster with overclocked ISA bus.
CIrrus Logic 542x cards should be safe, fast and reasonably priced choice. Trident 8900D is also quite fast, overclocking friendly and cheap, but usually has very bad image quality. Tseng 4000AX is nice, but extremely overrated for what it is, but you already have it.

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Reply 6 of 25, by Swiego

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OK. From what everyone is saying, in DOS it makes ZERO difference whether one has say an ET4000AX, a CL-GD5434 or a Rage64 ISA card--period. If ISA is one's only option, then all three of these cards are completely functionally equivalent in DOS, regardless of your CPU. Therefore the extremely high cost of say the latter two vs the ET4000 is not based on any DOS performance advantage. Is that correct?

I ask because (a) I haven't seen much in the way of benchmarks that pit these best-of-the-best cards against each other and (b) some of them absolutely carry a higher price premium than others.

Reply 7 of 25, by The Serpent Rider

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Tseng pricetags are bloated due to somewhat "cult following". Which is humorous, because they don't offer anything unique. You can find alternatives or better alternatives to ET4000 series for any slot (ISA, VLB, PCI).

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Reply 8 of 25, by Jo22

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+1

The only special case might be demoscene stuff, though.
Some demos were literally made for the ET4000, such as the Copper Demo (see channel in signature).

While I made it run on various PCs with Oak OTI-37c etc, some effects didn't turn out 100% correct (to be fair, my screens weren't period-correct also).

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Reply 10 of 25, by Grzyb

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Swiego wrote on 2020-07-03, 01:10:

OK. From what everyone is saying, in DOS it makes ZERO difference whether one has say an ET4000AX, a CL-GD5434 or a Rage64 ISA card--period. If ISA is one's only option, then all three of these cards are completely functionally equivalent in DOS, regardless of your CPU.

No, they aren't functionally equivalent.

True, video memory speed (= performance in non-accelerated software, like DOS games) may be identical.
Functionality, however, is more than just speed.
For some, DOS usage may be limited to games, but for others it may involve viewing 1024x768x24bpp JPEG images - and for this a 4 MB card would be nice, therefore Mach64 (not Rage64, there wasn't such a thing for ISA).
And there are users who want to play CGA games, or run some custom software designed especially for Hercules Graphics Card - in this case the choice would be ET4000AX.

Reply 11 of 25, by clueless1

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Swiego wrote on 2020-07-02, 06:33:

I guess my question is simple... for DOS games, in the space from 386 to say ~P133, is there a sizable cluster of ISA video cards that all plateau at a similar performance level such that if you have one you needn’t look for another, or are there a select few that break past the pack and merit their high resale value?

Here's some benchmark results on a P3-800 from Elianda:
http://retronn.de/ftp/docs/eliandas_isa_vga_roundup.pdf
Here's a bunch more tested on an even faster platform:
http://www.vgamuseum.info/index.php/benchmarks
And even more linked in this thread:
Fastest ISA video card for Doom
The slower the system, the less the performance differences between the cards will be. You can probably conclude as others have said that your current card is a very good choice and getting something else likely won't give a noticeable difference. But sometimes it's still fun to buy other cards and test them against each other.

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OPL3 FM vs. Roland MT-32 vs. General MIDI DOS Game Comparison
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DOS PCI Graphics Card Benchmarks

Reply 12 of 25, by Baoran

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One thing I have noticed. Not all ET4000AX cards are equal. I have 3 of them and all of them get different benchmark results. Their speed seems to be that the older the card the slower it is, so ET4000AX ISA card from mid 90s was faster than early 90s card.

Reply 13 of 25, by Swiego

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clueless1 wrote on 2020-07-03, 13:19:
Here's some benchmark results on a P3-800 from Elianda: http://retronn.de/ftp/docs/eliandas_isa_vga_roundup.pdf Here's a bunch m […]
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Swiego wrote on 2020-07-02, 06:33:

I guess my question is simple... for DOS games, in the space from 386 to say ~P133, is there a sizable cluster of ISA video cards that all plateau at a similar performance level such that if you have one you needn’t look for another, or are there a select few that break past the pack and merit their high resale value?

Here's some benchmark results on a P3-800 from Elianda:
http://retronn.de/ftp/docs/eliandas_isa_vga_roundup.pdf
Here's a bunch more tested on an even faster platform:
http://www.vgamuseum.info/index.php/benchmarks
And even more linked in this thread:
Fastest ISA video card for Doom
The slower the system, the less the performance differences between the cards will be. You can probably conclude as others have said that your current card is a very good choice and getting something else likely won't give a noticeable difference. But sometimes it's still fun to buy other cards and test them against each other.

Thanks I had seen the first two links which in fact caused me to post the question (you’ll notice many of the purported “top” cards are missing from both) but the third link in the third link was new to me and it indeed does compare these cards, suggesting the CL-GD5434 and Et4000AX being nearly at parity with the Mach64 somewhat slower.

Reply 14 of 25, by Swiego

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The Serpent Rider wrote on 2020-07-03, 10:28:

Tseng pricetags are bloated due to somewhat "cult following". Which is humorous, because they don't offer anything unique. You can find alternatives or better alternatives to ET4000 series for any slot (ISA, VLB, PCI).

See, I don’t follow this. They can be expensive but I would say the highest end CL card price tags are more bloated still? That’s what I was trying to understand... why do people complain about Tseng card value (when they are relatively plentiful and there appears to be nothing faster) while,talking about how a CL card is the one to get, when those are no faster yet often more expensive and harder to find? Did they have some other advantage e.g. output quality or game compatibility?

Reply 15 of 25, by Swiego

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Grzyb wrote on 2020-07-03, 12:43:
No, they aren't functionally equivalent. […]
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Swiego wrote on 2020-07-03, 01:10:

OK. From what everyone is saying, in DOS it makes ZERO difference whether one has say an ET4000AX, a CL-GD5434 or a Rage64 ISA card--period. If ISA is one's only option, then all three of these cards are completely functionally equivalent in DOS, regardless of your CPU.

No, they aren't functionally equivalent.

True, video memory speed (= performance in non-accelerated software, like DOS games) may be identical.
Functionality, however, is more than just speed.
For some, DOS usage may be limited to games, but for others it may involve viewing 1024x768x24bpp JPEG images - and for this a 4 MB card would be nice, therefore Mach64 (not Rage64, there wasn't such a thing for ISA).
And there are users who want to play CGA games, or run some custom software designed especially for Hercules Graphics Card - in this case the choice would be ET4000AX.

All good points. I agree software compatibility and frame buffer size are important factors.

Reply 16 of 25, by dirkmirk

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https://youtu.be/laMzPYhFSHE

I'm going to sound like a broken record because I've posted this a few times now....

That's my 386DX-40 with a 2meg Cirrus Logic 5434.

Basically their is no real difference if you just play dos games even 256kb is enough for gaming if you have that kind of system with an isa slot.

The first question is do you want a better windows experience?

Straight up most 5434s have 2meg of ram and that's good for 1024x768 16 bit colour which makes Scarlett look stunning on my desktop.

And the 2D acceleration takes away the stuttery mess when doing simple functions even playing solitaire, I remember using a schools 486 DX4-100 back in the day and watching the end of solitaire as all the cards do that thing, it was all 2D function not the CPU like I had assumed.

You could call having 2D acceleration a gimmick because I suspect like most of us you just want to play dos games, I found no difference between this and an ET4000.

Reply 17 of 25, by The Serpent Rider

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Basically their is no real difference if you just play dos games even 256kb is enough for gaming

Not really. Early and/or budget VGA cards suck so much, that it's not good idea to use them even on 386.

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Reply 18 of 25, by darry

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The Serpent Rider wrote on 2020-07-05, 23:41:

Basically their is no real difference if you just play dos games even 256kb is enough for gaming

Not really. Early and/or budget VGA cards suck so much, that it's not good idea to use them even on 386.

Agreed.
Early OAK (OTI-037 , I think) cards and anything with a Realtek VGA chip suck especially hard and should not be used in a 386+, unless slideshows are the desired outcome.

EDIT: There are other crappy VGA chips, and not just ones on 256K cards . These are just examples .