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What's the story behind the Professional Graphics Adapter?

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_Graphics_Controller

 

I just discovered this graphics card from 1984 and apparently it was very much way, WAY ahead of its time. It was capable of up to 640×480 resolution with 256 colors at 60 frames per second, 320KB of video RAM, it's own Intel 8088 processor, could do simple 3D graphics, and apparently was designed especially for CAD technicians. This super high end graphics card sure didn't come cheap though; it was $4290, which was about what a top of the line computer went for back then.

 

So who here has had a chance to try it out? What was it like compared to the standard graphics cards of the day, and is there anywhere on YouTube or elsewhere that demonstrates what the PGA can do?

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_Graphics_Controller

 

I just discovered this graphics card from 1984 and apparently it was very much way, WAY ahead of its time. It was capable of up to 640×480 resolution with 256 colors at 60 frames per second, 320KB of video RAM, it's own Intel 8088 processor, could do simple 3D graphics, and apparently was designed especially for CAD technicians. This super high end graphics card sure didn't come cheap though; it was $4290, which was about what a top of the line computer went for back then.

 

So who here has had a chance to try it out? What was it like compared to the standard graphics cards of the day, and is there anywhere on YouTube or elsewhere that demonstrates what the PGA can do?

 

I got to use this card, along with others, offering significantly higher resolution in the late 80's. CAD Applications, like AUTOCAD and CADKEY, along with MASTERCAM were a focus of mine. At that time, I was doing manufacturing, when we still made a lot of stuff in the US, and the DOS PC, equipped with a card like this was the low end offering, compared to SGI, SUN and HP.

 

Many of these cards featured microcode type drivers, where the actual software function of the card was configured to match the application very well. That's part of what made the PC compete with the higher end UNIX machines, despite it's bus throughput being horrible in comparison.

 

At that time, a SGI would run circles around a card like this, featuring actual geometry and lighting hardware support, but costing several times as much. $20-50K was not uncommon, and a price easily paid by those wanting to do high end modeling, animation and graphics. SGI Photoshop was the shit, compared to the PC, as was CADKEY, ALIAS, and other damn cool simulation, modeling, graphics, animation, etc...

 

This was a fun time in computing, and very comparable to the 8 bit time, in that there were lots of machines, each well differentiated, each slowly being consumed by the general purpose PC. :(

 

Some metrics: A 30Mhz SGI could spin solid models around on the screen, with it's ELAN graphics system, containing more chips than I could count easily! We were enjoying DOS EGA and VGA games, by comparison. VGA hit, and we got things like WOLF3D and DOOM, which ran full screen 60fps, on a 150Mhz SGI, and that computer could run several copies concurrently, or serve the game to a few other computers, running X window display systems.

 

METHEUS was another higher end display card manufacturer, offering a 1024x768 pixel, 16 color display, with 2D and 3D wireframe graphics primitive acceleration. For a brief time, I made some good bucks installing, configuring and tweaking DOS systems for CAD & CAM, moving on to the UNIX machines as soon as I could wiggle my way into a job where I got to play on the boxen :)

 

Can't tell you much more about the PGA, other than it was not the best on the block, but as with most things IBM, supported and expensive, and that "sure thing". I replaced a few with METHEUS cards, costing a similar amount, but offering significantly better display characteristics.

 

VGA, XVGA, and the 3D cards, running OpenGL, Glide, etc... clobbered these cards, largely because chip innovation brought a significant price reduction, much improved draw speeds, color and resolution, and general purpose API interfaces, like GL, and the now dominant Direct X (which still kind of sucks for higher end visualization and engineering applications due to GLs high precision roots) meant application developers could write to the API, leaving the actual performance metrics up to the user.

 

These ranged from very slow software only emulation, if you could get it, to bad ass graphics cards, costing thousands of dollars.

 

I think you would find that card poorly supported, application specific, and slow by any reasonable standard. They look bad ass though! Every power graphics system did!

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It looks like some of the older ads are online:

 

http://books.google.com/books?id=yDsEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA23&lpg=PA23&dq=cadkey+6+metheus+video&source=bl&ots=1wteWbFC9r&sig=81w6O54XKEhHyDmDDfDqPHvlUSE&hl=en&ei=kynlS-_TCoKasgODutnRCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBIQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=cadkey%206%20metheus%20video&f=false

 

That's about it. I searched on products I knew would operate with these devices and found very little.

 

IMHO, the problem is very poor DOS compatibility. None of these cards were register compatible with the CEVXGA devices, and those dominated. The other one is they were niche designs, not powerful enough to operate with up and coming 3D and 2D graphics APIs.

 

I know that the moment XGA devices became available, these cards were ditched, and quick!! There was very little windows support as well. I'm sure the PGA actually saw drivers because of IBM, but none of the other ones did.

 

That gives me an idea. Maybe search on OS/2 and early windows versions for PGA.

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It appears some of the people responsible for these devices went on to develop high end PC graphics.

 

http://www.nvidia.com/object/IO_20010618_6071.html

 

nVidia was a killer startup, doing aggressive things. When SGI took the big hit from Microsoft over the Fahrenheit project (an exchange of "ideas" between OGL and Direct X, which fucked SGI), many top engineers moved to nVidia, giving them the edge they maintain today.

 

 

http://www.trygve.com/hardweird.html

 

I saw your pics of the super high-end IBM display card from 1985 that used 3 full slots and also curious on its performance. Here's what I dug up.

 

Introduced in 1984, and obsoleted by 1987, the Professional Graphics Controller (often called "Professional Graphics Adapter" and sometimes "Professional Graphics Array") offered slightly higher resolution and color depth than the EGA, up to 640 x 480 and 256 colours at 60 frames/second. It was intended for the computer-aided design market and included 320 kB of display RAM and an on-board microprocessor, which gave it the ability to do 3D rotation and clipping of images. While never widespread in consumer-class personal computers. US$4,290

 

I've attached a killer thesis PDF that covers graphics and technical computing. Good read, if you are into that kind of thing.

 

The PGA also saw some use in academic settings for life sciences visualization. Could not get any photos though. Most of those are locked up in pay to view PDFs.

 

Man, I could not find any screenies. Surprising.

GPUFinal.pdf

Edited by potatohead

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