VOGONS


First post, by VileR

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*** WARNING: deep historical geekery ahead! ***

Here's something I'm trying to figure out: there's this group of video chipsets/cards by various manufacturers, and the VGA BIOS in all of them seems to be related. Specifically: they all have the same distinctive font(s) when operating in text mode.

What I'd like to know is exactly *how* they're related - what's the common factor. (As some of you may guess, yes, this is related to my VGA font collection project.)
My best guess would be that these video BIOSes were all written by "SystemSoft", but I can't be sure, so perhaps some of you here could help confirm or falsify this.

Here's the list of cards/chips and what I've found out so far:
 

  1. Chromatic Research MPACT 2:

    Several cards with this chip are in the VGA Museum. This page has a downloadable BIOS for Vlask's card (an STB Nitro DVD), and this is the only actual BIOS dump I've found from any of the card discussed in this post.
    Strings in this BIOS image mention this happy crowd of companies:
     
    MPACT Media Engine Operating System 
    (c) 1993 SystemSoft Corp.
    (c) 1995,1996 Chromatic Research Inc.

    STB Nitro DVD AGP
    BIOS Version 1.90
    Copyright (C) 1998 STB Systems, Inc.
    Copyright (C) 1993-1998 Chromatic Research, Inc.
    Copyright (C) 1993 SystemSoft Corporation
    Copyright (C) 1990-1996 Elpin Systems, Inc.
    All rights reserved.
     
    And at the very end, we have:
     
    VGA FONT 1.05.02 02/16/93 ACM
     
    "ACM" probably being the initials of some guy who worked at SystemSoft or Elpin, and must've been proud of his work 😉
    For reference, the fonts look like this:
     
    MPACT.png
    Filename
    MPACT.png
    File size
    5.53 KiB
    Views
    174 views
    File license
    Fair use/fair dealing exception
     
     
  2. NeoMagic 128XD:

    As seen in MetalJesusRocks' Compaq Presario 1611. Same text-mode font as the MPACT above: https://youtu.be/WNSejwB53HE?t=675
    No VBIOS strings visible in the video, and no dump found.
     
     
  3. NeoMagic 2160:

    Found in a video posted by our own VOGONS member MAZter. Same font appears once again: https://youtu.be/QLcCcDpjnIk?t=7
    No VBIOS strings visible / no dump found.
     
     
  4. Silicon Motion SM910:
    Found in the same video as above, 4 minutes later - same font: https://youtu.be/QLcCcDpjnIk?t=247
    No VBIOS strings visible / no dump found, but this one probably has SystemSoft stuff in it -- there's this page of SystemSoft utilities here, and it includes a configuration program for the SM910.
     

Since I only have exactly one of these lookalike VBIOSes, I can't confirm my hunch that "SystemSoft" is the common factor.

So: if you own one of these NeoMagic or Silicon Motion-based cards - can you check for copyright strings / company names in the video BIOS, and post them here?
(I guess the same thing goes for any other VGA card that isn't mentioned here, but looks the same in text mode...)

Much obliged.

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Reply 2 of 7, by VileR

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Cool, thanks. 2005 is quite a bit later than those others, so at least that helps constrain the time-frame.
(seems like SystemSoft BIOS assets were sold off to 'Insyde' from Taiwan in '98, so I guess it won't appear in firmware from the 2000s).

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Reply 3 of 7, by MAZter

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VileR wrote on 2020-07-30, 20:40:

[*]Silicon Motion SM910:
No VBIOS strings visible / no dump found, but this one probably has SystemSoft stuff in it -- there's this page of SystemSoft utilities here, and it includes a configuration program for the SM910.
 

Unfortunately direct link to configuration program is dead.

Here vbios dump, nothing about SystemSoft there:

Filename
SM910_VGA_BIOS_V2.2.zip
File size
23.86 KiB
Downloads
1 download
File license
Public domain

Ver. 2.20.1.05/21/99.C1.1.05/21/99.C1
Silicon Motion SM910 VGA BIOS SM910 Copyright 1997-99, Silicon Motion Inc. - All Rights Reserved

Doom is what you want (c) MAZter

Reply 4 of 7, by MAZter

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VileR wrote on 2020-07-30, 20:40:

[*]NeoMagic 128XD:

As seen in MetalJesusRocks' Compaq Presario 1611. Same text-mode font as the MPACT above: https://youtu.be/WNSejwB53HE?t=675
No VBIOS strings visible in the video, and no dump found.

Here vbios dump from Panasonic CF-45:

Filename
128XD_SVGA_BIOS.zip
File size
24.54 KiB
Downloads
No downloads
File license
Public domain

MagicGraph 128XD 40K SVGA BIOS
Copyright 1994-97 NeoMagic Corp. All Rights Reserved.
CiGaMoEn nmx9xTV.def

Last edited by MAZter on 2020-08-02, 17:55. Edited 1 time in total.

Doom is what you want (c) MAZter

Reply 5 of 7, by VileR

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Very nice, appreciated. I guess there's no obvious connection between those three after all. The font blocks also change a little bit from one to the other - or at least, NeoMagic and Silicon Motion changed some pixels around, and felt justified to remove that "VGA FONT ... ACM" signature. 😉

(Funny how the 128XF one also says "THIS BUILD FOR NEOMAGIC INTERNAL USE ONLY!")

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Reply 6 of 7, by MAZter

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VileR wrote on 2020-07-30, 20:40:
[*]NeoMagic 2160: […]
Show full quote

[*]NeoMagic 2160:

Found in a video posted by our own VOGONS member MAZter. Same font appears once again: https://youtu.be/QLcCcDpjnIk?t=7
No VBIOS strings visible / no dump found.
 

2160 is close to 128XD:

Filename
NeoMagic 2160_SVGA_BIOS.zip
File size
24.24 KiB
Downloads
1 download
File license
Public domain

MagicGraph 128XD 40K SVGA BIOS
Copyright 1994-97 NeoMagic Corp. All Rights Reserved.
CiGaMoEn nmx9xTV.def

Doom is what you want (c) MAZter

Reply 7 of 7, by VileR

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Yep - not identical, but all the version strings / copyright notices / fonts are still the same.

Thanks for that one too. I guess there's not much of a lead to go on, since only the dudes at Chromatic were tidy (or insane) enough to have a BIOS which acknowledges copyrighted code from *4* different companies. Gotta wonder what went on there.

In any case, the dates in the Chromatic MPACT 2 bios are the earliest of the bunch. So as far as the font project goes, I'll content myself with crediting Chromatic as the originators, and the other two as ripoffs (boo!) 😉

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