About Those Trident VGAs…

An earlier post mentioned that the performance of Trident-based ISA VGA cards leaves much to be desired. A reader pointed out that such cards tend to have switchable 8-bit/16-bit bus width and performance might suffer if the card is incorrectly jumpered.

After examining two different Trident cards in detail, it is clear that yes, those jumpers exist… but the Trident-based cards are so bad that it doesn’t matter anyway.

Trident TVGA8900B

The first card was this:


It’s a 1991 ISA VGA card sold under the Octek brand, using a Trident TVGA8900B chip. It’s notable for sporting full 1MB video memory, not typical for a cheap 1991 card.

This card has several jumpers on the PCB, as well as a block of 6 DIP switches accessible from the rear of a system. Figuring out what the switches do is of course not so simple.

The closest description I could find is this; it’s not an exact match because there’s no TTL connector here, but the layout and jumper positions correspond very closely. This one also closely matches. It’s obvious that all these cards shared the same basic design.

So DIP switch SW6 controls bus width. Unfortunately the documentation says ‘on’ and ‘off’ while the actual switch is labeled ‘open’ and ‘closed’. The ‘on’ position should correspond to ‘closed’ and SW6 was already in the open/off position which should select 16-bit bus width, a reasonable setting for a 16-bit card. Here are the benchmark results reflecting the card’s initial configuration:

Trident TVGA8900B (SW5/SW6 closed):
 3DBench : 21.2 FPS
 Vidspeed VGA : M/W/R 1.3 / 1.3 / 1.1 MB/s
 Vidspeed MODEX : M/W 1.3 / 1.3 MB/s
 Doom timedemo : 2986 realtics

The test system was again a GA-586HX board with an AMD K5 PR133 CPU.

What’s not shown above is that Vidspeed lists the bandwidth figures for 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit memory accesses (only the 32-bit figures are shown above). The numbers were all very close which strongly indicates 8-bit operation—a 16-bit card should show significantly higher performance when using 16-bit vs. 8-bit accesses.

So what happens if SW6 is toggled? Well, something did happen! Here are the new results:

Trident TVGA8900B (SW5/SW6 open):
 3DBench : 34.4 FPS
 Vidspeed VGA : M/W/R 2.4 / 2.4 / 2.4 MB/s
 Vidspeed MODEX : M/W 1.3 / 1.3 MB/s
 Doom timedemo : 2986 realtics

The Vidspeed VGA numbers almost doubled, and the 3DBench score went up a lot. But… the MODEX numbers didn’t budge, and neither did DOOM. What’s going on?

While the switch does make a difference for chained VGA modes (mode 13h and hence 3DBench), it has zero impact on Mode X and therefore on DOOM. Why the initial switch position didn’t already select 16-bit operation as the documentation (and common sense) suggests is anyone’s guess. Why chained performance is improved but planar isn’t is another mystery.

With these improved numbers, the TVGA8900B would still do very poorly compared to the other cards, and especially the DOOM figures are the abysmal. Can anyone do worse?

Trident TVGA9000B

Why yes. This card:

The FCC grantee ID (HNG) indicates Trident; it’s a newer card (very early 1993) with a newer chip (TVGA9000B) but only half the video memory (512 KB).

Once again, finding documentation isn’t trivial. This card looks like a very good match. And so does this one. This time around there are not as many jumpers. Again the initial configuration should be 16-bit. And again the benchmark numbers indicate that the card behaves like an 8-bit device performance-wise, despite supposed 16-bit operation.

Trident TVGA9000B (JP8 closed/JP9 open):
 3DBench : 21.2 FPS
 Vidspeed VGA : M/W/R 1.3 / 1.3 / 1.1 MB/s
 Vidspeed MODEX : M/W 1.3 / 1.3 MB/s
 Doom timedemo : 3035 realtics

The performance is more or less identical to the 8900B in its initial configuration, only DOOM is slightly slower.

Unfortunately, this time no amount of monkeying with the jumpers had any effect. The performance didn’t improve at all. Perhaps the jumpers simply don’t do anything. Why is the performance so bad? Who knows.

The upshot is that the newer 9000B card is even slower than the old 8900B, and the 8900B is nothing to write home about. It’s hard to see why anyone would want to use one of these cards when there’s an abundance of better alternatives.

Seeing how awful the performance of these cards is compared to the good ones (1.3 vs. 5.5 MB/s bandwidth), one might suppose that the Tridents were by far the slowest ISA VGA cards on the market in the 1990s. Surprisingly enough, that’s not the case. More about the real slowpokes next time.

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17 Responses to About Those Trident VGAs…

  1. calvin says:

    I’m guessing Realtek?

  2. Valery says:

    I remember Realtek cards, which was 8-bit only. PCB tracks, related to ISA high byte, was just not connected to chip – only to termination resistors.

  3. Michal Necasek says:

    Not a Realtek. To be honest I don’t have any Realtek VGA card. In my experience, Realtek is generally the worst hardware one can get, but at least the price corresponds to that. I’m sure Realtek would do well in the worst-ever VGA contest 🙂

  4. Richard Wells says:

    Oak video cards were slow.

    The ISA video cards sold by IBM tended to be downright glacial.

  5. Michal Necasek says:

    I’m curious which ones you have in mind, because I don’t think IBM ever sold a lot of ISA VGA graphics cards? Do you mean the true blue 8-bit IBM VGA cards or something else? The IBM VGAs were famously slow but they don’t qualify as they’re too old and 8-bit.

  6. Richard Wells says:

    I remember IBM offering VGA cards in the PC Options Catalog during the timeframe of the PS/1 and Aptiva. I don’t recall the manufacturer but those cards were scarcely better than the integrated video .

  7. Andreas Kohl says:

    The original IBM VGA card for 8-bit ISA bus was called “Personal System/2 Display Adapter” (75X9016) introduced in April 1987 mainly for PC, XT, XT-286 and AT systems. Almost all later models (PS/2, PS/1) should have integrated VGA graphics on the planar. The exceptions are PS/2 model 30 (and 25) which had only MCGA onboard.
    It seems the same adapter card was also listed as an IBM Option “VGA Display Adapter” with FRU P/N 1887743 OPT P/N 1887744. More information should be in IBM’s announcement letter 187-054.

  8. GL1zdA says:

    Real slowpokes? Matrox Ultima. Had it in my Compaq XL. Whooping 15.3 FPS in 3DBench with a Pentium 133. 6654 realticks in Doom.

    This spreadsheet contains some of my results:

  9. harald says:

    What about Tjeng Labs ET4000 – i got one ISA16/1Mb

    i found this site searching for experiences with Virtualizing
    OS/2 Warp 3 – i got 3 CD’s – copied all the files,
    merged them into various ISO files for easy handling

    i got a PVE box (proxmox virtual environment)
    using KVM for the sessions..
    I wonder if there is any experience with KVM
    i do wonder how to kickstart OS/2..
    without virtual-floppy 🙁

    Do bootable OS/2 warp install CD’s exist ?

    I tried to revive OS/2 but lack a decent cdrom unit
    that OS/2 supports – although i still got cdrom drives
    from 1999 and 2000 ( and up..)
    Would one K6/2-500 be sweet enough to use ?

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    Tseng Labs ET4000 cards are very good, see previous post.

    OS/2 did support CD booting in the final releases, Warp Server for e-Business and MCP/ACP. A 500 MHz K6-2 should work well, and will probably have enough RAM, too.

    No idea how well KVM supports OS/2 these days, it’s a lot harder to virtualize than, say, Linux.

  11. Andreas Kohl says:

    For creating bootable installation CDs you could read this article or better use the program UpdateCD which also integrates updates and additional features.

  12. Chad says:

    The Trident gum ad always made me think of these cards…

    “who wants Trident?” (crickets)

  13. Carlos says:

    I bought my first PC in 1993 and it came with a Trident video card. It ran Wolfenstein 3D very well but DOOM was slow! I managed by reducing the screen resolution and custom config.sys and autoexec.bat to maximize RAM.

    Thanks for bringing those memories back 🙂

  14. Pingback: More ISA VGA Benchmarks | OS/2 Museum

  15. Andreas Kohl says:

    So Trident based cards are not the best performers, especially in video modes almost nobody used back in the early nineties. But they were cheap and reliable for usual tasks. You got drivers for all popular applications and window systems packaged on 2 floppy disks. OS/2 support was great, also featuring seamless-windows and virtual screen under OS/2 2.0 16-bit GRE. Sorry, I cannot find my old TVGA 8800 card to do some benchmarking. But here is a link to a funny Trident advertisement from 1988 which includes comparsion with Tseng ET3000 and Paradise cards.

  16. Chris says:

    I also tried those same two Trident cards as yourself in a 386 system, the 8900B is the faster of them no question & changing jumpers on the 9000B made no difference to speed. I made a post on Vogons, this gleaned some more info on the Trident ISA cards & also explained those 9000B jumpers.

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