So This Actually Works…

In a discussion on a previous post, Richard Wells suggested that an ATI VGA Wonder-16, a 16-bit ISA VGA card, should be able to operate in an 8-bit slot. I can confirm that yes, it does:

ATI VGA Wonder-16 in 8-bit slot

ATI VGA Wonder-16 in 8-bit slot

Note that the card does not require any reconfiguration, it detects that it’s running in an 8-bit slot and acts accordingly. A wonder indeed.

The card does have a selectable setting to choose whether its ROM should operate as 8-bit or 16-bit memory, but that only seems to affect operation in a 16-bit slot. The manual mentions that even in some 16-bit slots the ROM might be automatically switched to 8-bit mode. That hints the card automatically detects what kind of slot it’s in.

Note that on this particular board the card doesn’t sit in the 8-bit slot quite tight because the BIOS chips get in the way (there are two 8-bit slots, each with a ROM chip right next to it). It does not cause any short-term problems. There are also no worries about possible short circuits because the edge connector sits on top of the ceramic ROM package.

Richard is entirely correct that this is a highly versatile card. It can handle analog VGA monitors as well as older EGA/RGB/TTL color and monochrome monitors, it can emulate EGA/CGA/MDA well, and at the same time it’s a SVGA card with VESA support (via TSR) and everything.

The VGA Wonder-16 is not a terribly fast card but it’s not insanely slow either, and it would be unrealistic to expect blazing speeds from a card built in January 1989 or so. After all, this was ATI’s first graphics card with a 16-bit bus. ATI’s later models with the 28800 chip such as Wonder XL and Wonder XL24 should be similarly flexible and faster.

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18 Responses to So This Actually Works…

  1. Jeff says:

    It would be great to have a dump of those ROMs. A dump using DEBUG.COM would be fine. Just sayin’. 😉

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    I assume you mean the system ROM? Or the ATI VGA Wonder? Or both? I should be able to do that…

  3. ben says:

    Ok I have a dumb question, what is the connector on the top of the vga card for? I have a couple cards with that connector, but I have never seen one in use, or a cable that would fit it. I had seen hints that this may be used for flat panels in portable computers, but I have not been able to verify this or find a pinout.

  4. Jeff says:

    The VGA Wonder. ROMs for other revisions are available online (eg, minuszerodegrees.net) but yours is older. The system ROM might be interesting, too, but I didn’t notice what motherboard you were using. Thanks.

  5. Michal Necasek says:

    Not a dumb question. It is an “ATI VGA Pass Through Connector” according to my VGAWONDER XL24 manual. That manual offers absolutely no other mention of it or any explanation of what it might be useful for.

    Luckily I also have an ATI 8514 ULTRA manual which makes it clear that the passthrough connector can be used to attach a non-VGA accelerator board such as the 8514 ULTRA to the VGA Wonder, if single-monitor operation is desired. In some situations, users might wish to have two (different) monitors attached to the 8514 and VGA since they could then be used simultaneously, e.g. for CAD work.

  6. Michal Necasek says:

    Gotcha. I had to ask because both ROMs are in the photo and the text talks about the system ROM chips. Just give me a day or two and I’ll see if this PROM programmer I recently got is any good.

    The board is a 1990-ish C&T CS8230 chipset based part with AMI BIOS, pretty vanilla.

  7. Christian says:

    Just a question out of pure interest: Would this card allow running Windows 2.x in a 1024×768 mode?

  8. Michal Necasek says:

    I believe so, with 2 or 16 colors. Possibly not Windows/386.

  9. Christian says:

    I only have Windows/286 2.11, so that limitation wouldn’t bother me.

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    Note that the VGA Wonder-16 card only has a 50 MHz DAC and therefore only supports 1024×768 interlaced. Modern monitors may not be able to handle that. Newer ATI VGA Wonder models should not have that restriction.

  11. Xelloss says:

    This is one of the devices you could attach to the internal connector of a VGA card back in the days of 16 bit computing:

    http://fotkidepo.ru/photo/229919/33043ifx2vnhf3i/867485w.jpg

    Video Blaster MP400, a hardware MPEG accelerator

  12. Michal Necasek says:

    Worth mentioning that the Video Blaster also had an external VGA passthrough, much like 3Dfx Voodoo boards a bit later.

    Thanks for reminding me of this. I have a CT6000 Video Blaster which has the internal passthrough cable, and it should hopefully be usable with the 8514 ULTRA as well. I also have a ReelMagic MPEG decoder board (Digital Fullvideo).

  13. Richard Cranium says:

    I LOL’d. Thanks for this, Michal – it answered all my questions in one shot. 🙂

  14. I was one of the first “kids on the block” to get an EGA Wonder when that “new” Canadian outfit (ATI) started shipping to the US (1986). Here in New York, we got the first truckloads to come down from Canada (or so I was told).

    As a reseller, I got mine straight from my distributor, right here on Long Island. Naturally, being among the first usually means being among the first to experience technical issues. At the time, I had a genuine IBM XT (for my EGA Wonder) and an Amdek 310A amber monitor. The EGA Wonder was a fabulous card.

    Naturally, as soon as the VGA Wonder-16 was announced (1988), I just had to have that to go onto my (new) Hauppauge Computer Works 386 replacement motherboard (which I still have, along with its proprietary 2MB memory expansion board). I skipped the original 8-bit version of the card in favor of the 16-bit one. The VGA Wonder-16 was no disappointment, driving my Amdek 410A (by then) quite nicely.

    I have my VGA Wonder to this day, along with the manual (on my shelf). Great technology from a great company (well, it was a great company then, with a lot of really dedicated people who were genuinely enthusiastic about their cutting edge products and about the fun of computing).

  15. Michal Necasek says:

    Thanks for sharing the memories!

    I’d say the VGA Wonder cards were definitely a cut above the rest, or at least most of the rest. The jumperless mostly automatic EEPROM-based configuration was something most cards didn’t have even several years later.

  16. Yuhong Bao says:

    @Lewis Rosenthal: Do you know the history of pre EGA Wonder products, such as the ATI Color Emulation Card?

  17. MiaM says:

    How does the Video Blaster MP400 use the VGA passthrough and the internal connector?

    I have used an Video Blaster FS200 which also have both VGA passthrough and internal connector. IIRC when the digitizing software is active only the internal cable is used (i.e. you don’t need the pass through cable, you see both the VGA picture and the video input picture on the VGA output anyway) but with the software inactive the RGB signals are fed through the pass through. I don’t recall if the sync signals does come from the pass through or from the internal connector.

    I remember that the DAC in the FS200 where rather good but the card had an 800×600 limit so some time in the late 90’s or early 00’s it really became obsolete. It also had good video input quality, far superior of any crappy BT848/878 card. This is probably due to the card using Philips video IC’s. Philips were a major player in the consumer TV IC field at that time.

  18. Michal Necasek says:

    MP400 is CT6080? I only have an old CT6000. I think they all have the same basic setup though, with internal and external passthrough cables.

    FWIW, the CT6000 also has a Philips chip and yes, Philips ICs were very common for TV DACs and ADCs.

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