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Apple II crazy graphics cards?

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#1 spacecadet OFFLINE  


    River Patroller

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Posted Sun Apr 15, 2018 12:13 PM

When I was a kid, I used to read a lot of computer magazines. I distinctly remember seeing ads in the back of these for 8 bit Apple II graphics cards that promised to do insane resolutions - like beyond what the IIGS could do at the time. (I'm remembering something like 720x480 at 16 bit resolution.) Of course they were way out of my price range so I never really looked any further into it.


Nowadays, I don't see any mention of these cards in any of the online resources I've found, and I've never seen one of these on Ebay.


So, a couple questions.


1) Did these actually exist? If not, am I imagining it or was it just vaporware that never came to market?


2) Does anyone have any old computer magazines that might have one of these ads in it? I wish I remembered which magazine I saw it in. It could have been something like inCider or A+, or it could have just been something like Byte. I'm guessing it would have been around 1987 or 88 that I saw these ads, since it would have been after I'd had my IIc for a while and probably around the time the IIGS came out. (I remember thinking "this is better than a IIGS!")


Also, if these did exist and are just super rare, what were they used for? Was there software that took advantage of them or did you need to program your own?


#2 Keatah ONLINE  


    Missile Commander

  • 21,955 posts

Posted Sun Apr 15, 2018 2:12 PM

I have a SecondSight VGA board and the developer's kit. It'll run at 1024x768. The engineering charter and purpose of the SecondSight board was to allow contemporary and sharper/crisper VGA monitors to be used with the Apple II. And it did this through interfacing a real PC-style VL-Bus videochip from OPTI / Oak Technologies. It was not intended to provide additional blitting or animation or a new programming environment. Though the capability was there by default in spades and droves. Too bad the demoscene never did anything with it. The manual which can be found here, lists 3 or 4 applications that would have made use of the special (but boringly standard) capabilities.



Then there's the SubLogic or Evans & Sutherland external graphics co-processor boxes - to which the Apple II would have been a controller. There is something like this for the TRS-80. And I reference it here because I can't find the E&S example, which may have been a myth? So.. The TRS-80 version has an Apple II tie-in of sorts. It's made to increase the resolution specifically. And only that. So that the use of the A2-3D1 animation libraries becomes practical. It's there to add "hi-resolution" to what is otherwise a very low-res display.



There's some DIY projects boards and the Arcade and Sprite boards. These are just that, based on the Texas Instruments chip. Their purpose was to create a new language and obviously add sprite capability. Among a small bump in resolution and/or variety of colors. the difference between the Sprite board and Arcade board was the former didn't have a sound chip and was cheaper.


A modern-day derivative of this is here:



Don't forget about the Apple II Video Overlay Card either. It was pretty adept at processing NTSC video and has 2 FPGAs on it in addition to a complete //e computer. It arrived rather late in the II series lifecycle and therefore nothing much was done with it.




It was interesting (and rather annoying) that some peripheral cards would need to "pick signals" from various points of the Apple II's circuit in order to do their job. Seeing as how that would be consumer unfriendly, the expansion card makers would incorporate a rather complete Apple II computer itself on-a-chip and just use the bus of your existing console. This was highly popular with accelerators from Applied Engineering, Titan, Saturn Systems, Zip Technologies, and others. The Overlay Card did the same thing.


If you look at the Apple II VGA adapter from A2Heaven, it does the opposite. It provides what is necessary to do the job. And you will need to use jumpers to pick several signals. Nothing wrong in that for today's classic computing enthusiasts. But in the late 80's and early 1990's there was a huge push to NOT do things like that. Plug and Play was on the horizon and hardware makers wanted to produce simple plug-in devices.




On the whole, custom hardware like this never really achieved widespread usage despite marketing's best efforts to make it all a simple plug-in board. The tedium and annoyances stemmed from limited processing power and nicher than niche software. The tedium lie in making that software work with the rest of the ecosphere.


There was simple the problem of combining the primitive with the sophisticated and not having enough raw power to blend it all together. It's like with the SecondSight board. Do you think the 1MHz Apple II bus could feed a native VESA LocalBus anywhere near capacity? I think not. In essence, the SecondSight board's SVGA chip could be considered off-board and part of the monitor itself - the way it was wired, the stark differences in technology. The usefulness and focus of the board lie in having the Apple II spit data at it as a second framebuffer, and that's it.

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