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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Video Cards | Video Display Standards ]

Super VGA (SVGA) and Other Standards Beyond VGA

VGA was the last well-defined and universally accepted standard for video. After IBM faded from leading the PC world many companies came into the market and created new cards with more resolution and color depths than standard VGA (but almost always, backwards compatible with VGA).

Most video cards (and monitors for that matter) today advertise themselves as being Super VGA (SVGA). What does a card saying it is SVGA really mean? Unfortunately, it doesn't mean much of anything. SVGA refers collectively to any and all of a host of resolutions, color modes and poorly-accepted pseudo-standards that have been created to expand on the capabilities of VGA. Therefore, knowing that a card that supports "Super VGA" really tells you nothing at all. In the current world of multiple video standards you have to find out specifically what resolutions, color depths and refresh rates each card supports. You must also make sure that the monitor you are using supports the modes your video card produces; here too "Super VGA compatible" on the monitor doesn't help you.

To make matters more confusing, another term is sometimes used: Ultra VGA or UVGA. Like SVGA, this term really means nothing also. :^) Some people like to refer to VGA as 640x480 resolution, SVGA as 800x600, and UVGA as 1024x768. This is overly simplistic however, and really is not something that you can rely upon.

The proliferation of video chipsets and standards has created the reliance on software drivers that PC users have come to know so well. While Microsoft Windows, for example, has a generic VGA driver that will work with almost every video card out there, using the higher resolution capabilities of your video card requires a specific driver written to work with your card. (The VESA standards have changed this somewhat, but not entirely).

IBM did create several new video standards after VGA that expanded on its capabilities. Compared to VGA, these have received very limited acceptance in the market, mainly because they were implemented on cards that used IBM's proprietary Micro Channel Architecture (which received no acceptance in the market). You may hear these acronyms bandied about from time to time:

  • 8514/A: This standard was actually introduced at the same time as standard VGA, and provides both higher resolution/color modes and limited hardware acceleration capabilities as well. By modern standards 8514/A is still rather primitive: it supports 1024x768 graphics in 256 colors but only at 43.5 Hz (interlaced), or 640x480 at 60 Hz (non-interlaced).
  • XGA: This acronym stands for Extended Graphics Array. XGA cards were used in later PS/2 models; they can do bus mastering on the MCA bus and use either 512 KB or 1 MB of VRAM. In the 1 MB configuration XGA supports 1,024x768 graphics in 256 colors, or 640x480 at high color (16 bits per pixel).
  • XGA-2: This graphics mode improves on XGA by extending 1,024x768 support to high color, and also supporting higher refresh rates than XGA or 8514/A.

The closest thing to a true SVGA standard is the set of standards created by VESA.

Next: VESA Super VGA Standards


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