Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 90 / NOVEMBER 1987 / PAGE 10

Video Cards For PCs

I am interested in purchasing an IBM PC or compatible for home use. For games, what is the minimum (in cost) video graphics card I need? Will I also need a game port for a joystick?

Eldon Brewer

The short answer to your question is that most games require a color graphics adapter (CGA) card, and many also require a joystick. For the joystick, you will need an appropriate interface card. CGA-compatible cards are widely available, and many are relatively inexpensive. Joy-stick adapter cards are also available, but you might want to consider a multifunction card that includes a serial port, printer port, and possibly extra memory, in addition to the game controller port. You'll probably find that the multifunction card is significantly cheaper than the combined cost of separate cards with equivalent features.

First time buyers are often confused by all the different video options available for PC's and compatibles. Here is a rundown of what's available. The original monochrome display adapter (MDA) gives you highly readable text, but no graphics. The color graphics adapter (CGA) gives you four-color graphics, but produces text that many users find hard on the eyes. Many users want both text and graphics; the Hercules Graphics Adapter (HGA) gives you both, but only in monochrome. Furthermore, the Hercules card is incompatible with programs written for the CGA. For example, none of the BASIC graphics commands support the HGA. An alternative—albeit more expensive—solution is the enhanced graphics adapter (EGA), which offers higher resolution and more readable text. Some EGA cards (although not IBM's) are also compatible with software written for the older MDA, the CGA, and possibly even the Hercules adapter. The EGA is becoming popular, but many software companies still make their games compatible with the CGA to insure the largest possible market for their products.

The introduction of the new IBM Personal System/2 line has added two new standards to the fray. The Model 30 includes a built-in Multicolor Graphics Array (MGCA), which adds a 256-color medium-resolution mode to the EGA capabilities. Models 50, 60, and 80 include the Video Graphics Array (VGA) on the system board. VGA features the capabilities of the MCGA, plus 16-color extra-high-resolution modes. IBM has announced a VGA card for use in the PC, AT, and compatibles; other companies are sure to follow suit.

Many IBM-compatible computers now come with built-in video hardware, or else have a particular video card installed as standard equipment. This is an important feature to look for when shopping for a computer because it could save you the cost of add-on boards.

Once you have decided on a video card for your IBM PC or compatible, you'll need to select a monitor which supports that display format. MDA and HGA cards require TTL monochrome monitors; composite monochrome monitors cannot be used. CGA cards generally require RGBI (digital RGB) monitors. Some CGA cards also provide a composite video output, but composite color monitors produce displays that are considerably less sharp than their RGB counterparts. EGA cards require special (and more expensive) EGA-compatible digital RGBI monitors. The MCGA and VGA require analog RGB monitors. A new class of monitors, spawned by the NEC Multisync, has the capability of working with all of these different video standards. As you might expect, however, these units are usually more expensive than monitors designed for one particular type of display adapter.