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

VESA Super VGA Standards

In an attempt to bring some order to the chaos of competing and incompatible Super VGA standards on the market, the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has worked to establish new video interface standards. The intention of these standards is to once again provide a standardized application program interface between video hardware and application software. This would allow software developers to write their code to work with a single standard video model instead of having to write custom code to support the many different cards in use in the market today.

Originally ignored by many vendors, VESA support is now becoming generally accepted as beneficial, and something that buyers look for when shopping for a video card. This is in part due to the growing number of programs (especially games) that require VESA SVGA compatibility in order to function at peak performance.

The VESA SVGA standard is called the VESA BIOS Extension, sometimes abbreviated as VBE. There are actually more than one now, as more than one version of the standard exists. What's interesting about VBE is that it can be implemented in either hardware or software. Some video cards support a particular VBE standard in hardware. Those that do not can use a small memory-resident program--which is sometimes called a "VESA driver" even though it technically isn't a driver--that will provide VESA support for many cards that don't support VBE natively. This flexibility has helped encourage the widespread adoption of the standard because even proprietary hardware can be made to work with standard software, mostly transparently.

There are two common VBE standards currently in use: version 1.2 and version 2.0. Obviously, version 1.2 is seen much more in hardware than version 2.0 because it is older. Many newer cards provide native VBE 2.0 support. For those that do not, there are memory-resident programs such as SciTech's Display Doctor that can be used to provide VBE 2.0 support. For older cards, a program such as Display Doctor can actually improve performance because it controls the hardware more efficiently than the on-board BIOS does.

Hardware support for VBE version 2.0 is preferable as this avoids the necessity of using a software program to provide VESA support. However, there are reports of some cards that have buggy implementations of VBE 2.0 that don't always work 100% correctly. In these cases supplementing with something like UniVBE can eliminate some of these problems.

Next: 3D Video Acceleration

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