CSS MaxGraphics/16. (Evaluation)
by Tom Benford
The three-quarter-length CSS MaxGraphics/16 graphics accelerator card is American-made and comes with either 512K or 1MB of VRAM in SIPP (Single Inline Pin Package) RAM modules.
Each of the two four-socket banks on the board can accept 128K SIPP modules, so filling all eight sockets brings the available VRAM configuration to its 1MB maximum. It's important to note that this board, as well as some of the others reviewed here, imposes some video mode restrictions when only 512K of VRAM is available on the board. With the MaxGraphics/16, the restrictions of the 512K configuration are that the board won't function in 1280 x 1024 (16-color) mode, 1280 x 960 (16-color) mode, 1024 x 768 (256-color--the 512K version supports 16 colors) mode, 800 x 600 (256-color--the 512K version supports 16 colors) mode, high-color (16-bits per pixel) mode, and two-page mode. Adding the additional 512K of VRAM eliminates these problems, so if you want to use this board in the extended or high-color mode, plan on spending more for the extra memory.
One of the first things I noticed about this board was an edge connector at the top, which made me hope that the MaxGraphics/16 might have capabilities similar to those of the #9 board for coupling to and working with an existing Super VGA card. Generally, an edge connector such as this one is put on a board for just such a purpose, but I could find no mention of this connector or its purpose anywhere in the user's manual. It was merely referred to as "feature connector" in the manual diagrams.
Although it lacks an index and information about the feature connector, the manual is otherwise adequately written. At the end of the manual, you'll find a quasi-useful glossary of terms tied to video technology (such as bitmap, driver, and palette).
I found the installation of the driver and utility software (on 5 1/4-inch disks) straightforward and uncomplicated for the most part, although not an automatic process. The finer points of configuration require a considerable amount of user interactivity. In addition to a driver for Windows, the package provides drivers for AutoCAD, Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Generic CAD, and other applications.
The board has several jumpers that may require resetting if the factory defaults cause conflicts with other devices. The manual warns of such incompatibilities, stating that they're due to certain design characteristics of IBM AT-compatible systems, which require all boards to use a certain area of memory. While I didn't experience any problem using the board on a fairly "plain vanilla" 386SX/16, the documentation warns that "you may experience problems using the MaxGraphics/16 along with other peripheral cards." This would tend to make me feel uneasy about installing this board on a system with multiple peripherals like sound cards, a hand scanner, a video capture board, a SCSI or proprietary CD-ROM controller, or other such devices. With these devices in your system, you'd need to be ready to resolve interrupt and other conflicts that might arise with this card.
With the CSS MaxGraphics/16, as with the other boards, you need to assess your needs, study our Test Lab results, and determine how willing and able you are to tinker with the hardware.