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Best graphics card for 286 system

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    Best graphics card for 286 system

    I just tested almost all my ISA graphics cards on a 286. I'm a bit disappointed since only few of them actually worked on a 286. It seems that almost all later ISA graphics cards have BIOS that uses 386 instructions.

    I tested them using 24” HP LP2475w LCD monitor. It doesn't handle analog VGA well so none of the cards produced as good image quality as I would have liked. Best of them produced image quality that could be considered decent. Worst cards produced image quality so bad that I certainly don't ever want to use them with this monitor. One card failed to work at all with this monitor.

    I tested with Keen 4 since it has two options (jerky motion fix and SVGA compatibility) for cards that are not 100% EGA/VGA compatible. Cards with perfect compatibility do not need to enable either. I consider compatibility to be more important than speed.


    #9 (S3 928 ). This turned out to be the best ISA graphics card. Too bad it don't work on a 286.
    • Requires 386+: YES
    • Image quality: Decent (best of tested cards).
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    ATI (28800-5). My LCD monitor did not work at all with this card. The card does work on a 286 since there were no beeps and system booted based on hard disk LED activity.

    Cirrus Logic (CL-GD5422)
    • Requires 386+: YES
    • Image quality: Bad but a little better than Tridents.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    Hercules Dynamite (ET4000/W32i). Worked on a 286 but only with Turbo disabled. There were some minor graphics corruption with Turbo enabled. First I thought that the RAM was bad but there were no problems on a 386.
    • Requires 386+: NO
    • Image quality: Decent. Perhaps a little bit worse than the S3.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: ON


    Paradise VGA Professional Card (PVGA1A). This Paradise required SVGA compatibility unlike the other Paradise. This one is one year older and has 512 kiB RAM.
    • Requires 386+: NO
    • Image quality: Decent but not quite as good as the best ISA cards.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: ON


    Paradise (PVGA1A). This Paradise had perfect compatibility unlike the Professional Card. This one has 256 kiB RAM.
    • Requires 386+: NO
    • Image quality: Decent but not quite as good as the best ISA cards.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    Trident (TVGA8800BR). This is the only card I tried only on 386. It it old and 8-bit so it should work even on XT systems. This was the only card that was too slow to run Keen 4 smoothly on a 386 DX-40. Keen 4 ran smoothly with all other cards on both 286 and 386.
    • Requires 386+: NO
    • Image quality: Bad. Trident 9000i was the only one with even worse image quality.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: ON


    Trident (TVGA 9000i-1). This one has jumpers for 8-bit mode but it turned out that the BIOS requires 386.
    • Requires 386+: YES
    • Image quality: Bad. This card easily had the worst image quality.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    I've always liked Paradise cards and with a good reason. Image quality is a lot better than low-end graphics cards from early 90s. Paradise are also compatible so I have a good reason to keep Paradise on my 286. I would like to know if there are even better alternatives.

    Edit: Here are additional cards.

    OAK OTI037C. The only 16-bit card that was not fast enough for Keen 4 on 386-40. Wikipedia says that the OTI037C is a 8-bit VGA chipset so no wonder. This turned out to be easily faster than Trident 8800 but not as fast as 8-bit Paradise. Maybe the chip internally accesses RAM using 8-bit data path while the external data path is 16-bit. The card did have a jumper for grayscale operation. I would have liked it when I had to use grayscale IBM VGA monitor.
    • Requires 386+: NO
    • Image Quality: Decent. Not quite as good as the best ISA cards but a bit better than on Paradise cards.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    Paradise VGA Plus. 8-bit card that was actually faster than OAK and by far faster than Trident 8800. Avoid Tridents if you need 8-bit capable VGA card. This is simply 8-bit version of the non Professional Paradise card.
    • Requires 386+: NO
    • Image Quality: Decent but not quite as good as the best ISA cards.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    Since the 386 have VLB slots (386/486 hybrid motherboard), I decided to test the few VLB cards that I have.

    ATi Graphics Wonder (Mach 32 VLB). Surprisingly this had the worst image quality of the VLB cards.
    • Requires 386+: YES
    • Image Quality: Below Paradise cards but far better than ISA Tridents or ISA Cirrus Logic.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: ON
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    Cirrus Logic CL-GD5428 (VLB). This should be quite fast so people usually recommend it since these are not rare. I feared that it would have as bad image quality as the ISA CL but it turned out to be far better. I had the Mach 32 on my 386 but now I'm going to replace it with this.
    • Requires 386+: YES
    • Image Quality: Decent. About the same as ISA Hercules Dynamite with ET4000/W32i.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF


    #9 GXE64 (S3 Vision864 VLB). Again the #9 with S3 turned out to be the best. This one had the best image quality of all tested cards. This is the only card that my monitor is happy with. I've used this card on my 486 gaming system and happily keep it there.
    • Requires 386+: YES
    • Image Quality: Good.
    • Fix Jerky Motion: OFF
    • SVGA Compatibility: OFF
    Last edited by aitotat; September 19, 2010, 06:14 AM. Reason: Added more cards.

    #2
    I like Tseng cards myself, as they are quite fast and compatible. Something tells me that your system is running the ISA bus out of spec, which would explain why things run better when you release the turbo button.
    "Will the Highways on the internets become more few?"

    V'Ger XT

    Comment


      #3
      Wouldn't the best graphics card depend on what you're attempting to do?

      If, say, you were running a CAD package with TIGA support, wouldn't a TIGA card blow away most legacy ISA VGA cards?

      Comment


        #4
        FWIW the OAK 256k VGA card I had in my 286/16 in the early 90s had perfect compatibility as well. Ran CK 4 just fine and dandy, as well as a lot of other games available for PCs at that time. No issues with the likes of GeoWorks, Neopaint or Quikmenu either.
        Thomas Byers (DRI)- "You'll have a million people using the A> [MS-DOS prompt] forever. You'll have five million using [nongraphic] menu systems such as Topview, Concurrent PC-DOS, Desq, and those types. But there'll be 50 to 100 million using the iconic-based interfaces."

        Comment


          #5
          I was thinking about the usual general purpose (S)VGA-cards. I know there were CAD controllers that could cost many times as much as normal (S)VGA-cards. Is there any benefit from CAD controllers when not using any CAD application? Are they even VGA-compatible? I think I know where I could get Eizo MD-B12. It is a full length 16-bit ISA card with 5 SIMM-sockets and TMS34010 controller.

          Comment


            #6
            I just added more cards to the first post. Now I have tested all my ISA cards. I tested my VLB cards too since I wanted to know how bad the image quality was on later Cirrus Logic chip (they have integrated RAMDAC).

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by aitotat View Post
              I was thinking about the usual general purpose (S)VGA-cards. I know there were CAD controllers that could cost many times as much as normal (S)VGA-cards. Is there any benefit from CAD controllers when not using any CAD application? Are they even VGA-compatible? I think I know where I could get Eizo MD-B12. It is a full length 16-bit ISA card with 5 SIMM-sockets and TMS34010 controller.
              No--almost all of the TIGA cards, for example, could do simple VGA emulation if no drivers were supplied, but performance in that mode was barely average.

              Comment


                #8
                I was under the impression that many of the TIGA boards needed to be paired with an actual VGA card through the feature connector. Is that not correct?
                "Will the Highways on the internets become more few?"

                V'Ger XT

                Comment


                  #9
                  Some TIGA cards were "add-ons" to a standard VGA card; a few (late) others had a VGA controller on-board. Some months ago, someone posted a photo of an example of the latter.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Yesterday a workmate donated me a 286 Acer motherboard fitted with a 268-16 and 2 MB of ram in SIPP package that was abandoned 15 years ago or so. Surprisingly, it works like a charm. I planned to test my four ISA graphic cards before seeing this post, now I have another reason to do it... I will put my results here.

                    I'm really interested to test how they perform under CGA / Hercules compatibility modes (I have to find the DOS specific utilities to set these modes). I will use CGA_COMP to check the degree of real compatibility.

                    As monitor I'm going to use a Mitsubishi Diamond Scan 70 17'' CRT monitor.

                    These are the four ISA cards I have:

                    Realtek RTG3106
                    Trident TVGA 9000C
                    Hualon HM86304Q
                    UMC UM85C408AF
                    Last edited by nestor; September 21, 2010, 02:32 PM.
                    My videos:
                    IBM PS/1 model 2011 restored and enhanced
                    IBM PC Advanced Diagnostics Cassette load

                    Comment


                      #11
                      What about some of the 64-bit ISA video cards? I have a cl5434(i think) based card 64bit/2mb dram ISA. I know there were also ati mach64 ISA cards as well. I also have a 4MB s3-968 vlb card, since you brought vlb into the mix...

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Here are the results of my four ISA VGA cards, plugged in a 286 16 MHz AT clone with a Mitsubishi DiamondScan 70 CRT:

                        Realtek RTG3106
                        Memory: 1024k
                        286 compatible: Yes
                        Works on 8bit ISA slot: Yes
                        CGA / Hercules mode: Yes, using provided utility.

                        CGACOMP Benchmarks:
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory read benchmark: 676
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory write benchmark: 855
                        - Adapter Memory-only read benchmark: 1756
                        - Adapter Memory-only write benchmark: 2056
                        - Tests on CGA mode: OK.

                        Notes:
                        - CGACOMP Benchmark results are worse when plugged in 8bit slot.
                        - Alley cat runs with no slowdowns on CGA mode.

                        Trident TVGA 9000C
                        Memory: 512k
                        286 compatible: Yes
                        Works on 8bit ISA slot: Yes
                        CGA / Hercules mode: Yes, using provided utility.
                        CGACOMP Benchmarks:
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory read benchmark: 650
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory write benchmark: 856
                        - Adapter Memory-only read benchmark: 1741
                        - Adapter Memory-only write benchmark: 2078
                        - Tests on CGA mode: OK.

                        Notes:
                        - CGACOMP Benchmark results are worse when plugged in 8bit slot.
                        - Alley cat runs with no slowdowns on CGA mode.
                        - CGA mode is kept on reboot, reverts to VGA mode on power off.


                        Hualon HM86304Q
                        Memory: 512k
                        286 compatible: Yes
                        Works on 8bit ISA slot: Yes
                        CGA / Hercules mode: No
                        CGACOMP Benchmarks:
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory read benchmark: 526
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory write benchmark: 709
                        - Adapter Memory-only read benchmark: 800
                        - Adapter Memory-only write benchmark: 946
                        - Tests on CGA mode: N/A

                        Notes:
                        - CGACOMP Benchmark results are the same when plugged in 8bit slot.

                        UMC UM85C408AF
                        Memory: 512k
                        286 compatible: Yes
                        Works on 8bit ISA slot: Yes
                        CGA / Hercules mode: No

                        CGACOMP Benchmarks:
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory read benchmark: 566
                        - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory write benchmark: 709
                        - Adapter Memory-only read benchmark: 820
                        - Adapter Memory-only write benchmark: 944
                        - Tests on CGA mode: N/A

                        Notes:
                        - CGACOMP Benchmark results are the same when plugged in 8bit slot.
                        - 320x200 VGA mode looks like it had a vertical scanline emulation or similar effect.
                        My videos:
                        IBM PS/1 model 2011 restored and enhanced
                        IBM PC Advanced Diagnostics Cassette load

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by nestor View Post
                          Trident TVGA 9000C
                          Memory: 512k
                          286 compatible: Yes
                          Works on 8bit ISA slot: Yes
                          CGA / Hercules mode: Yes, using provided utility.
                          CGACOMP Benchmarks:
                          - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory read benchmark: 650
                          - Interleaved opcode/adapter memory write benchmark: 856
                          - Adapter Memory-only read benchmark: 1741
                          - Adapter Memory-only write benchmark: 2078
                          - Tests on CGA mode: OK.

                          Notes:
                          - CGACOMP Benchmark results are worse when plugged in 8bit slot.
                          - Alley cat runs with no slowdowns on CGA mode.
                          - CGA mode is kept on reboot, reverts to VGA mode on power off.
                          Cool, thanks for testing this and posting the result here
                          Which utility do I need to run it in CGA/Hercules mode?

                          Comment


                            #14
                            The file is called svm.exe and it is included in the utility package inside the TVGA9000 drivers. You can search for it in google, it finds some results like this.
                            My videos:
                            IBM PS/1 model 2011 restored and enhanced
                            IBM PC Advanced Diagnostics Cassette load

                            Comment


                              #15
                              I know this thread is old, but it may be gold. I decided to bump it, as it's #1 result on Google.
                              I am trying hard to find a SVGA card that can display 800x600x64k or more under Win3.1 on a 286. I own a S3 924/911, CL-GD5422 and Match64 and none of them works. Win3.1 crashes during boot or sends me back to DOS prompt. However, the CL-GD5422 brings its own CLMODE utility for DOS, with which it is able to display SVGA resolutions flawlessly (even 640x480x16mil cols) under DOS on the 286, so I would not expect a general 286 incompatibility as mentioned above unless you try to run Win3.1.
                              I think the problem i am going to run into is that the Driver Development Kit Microsoft provided for 3.1 with an example SVGA driver, required a 386 for SVGA.
                              So unless a video card manufacturer wrote a 3.1 driver from scratch, theirs should also require a 386.
                              However, did any of you manage to get high resolutions under 3.1 on a 286? If yes, with which card?

                              First own PC in 2003: AMD K6-2 500MHz, 320MB RAM, 40GB IBM HDD, 50x CD-ROM, 8x4x24 CD/RW, 100MBit LAN, 32MB ATi Rage 128 Pro, Windows XP

                              Comment

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