NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

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fenarinarsa
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NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

At last I could get my hands on a NOVA compatible VGA card this summer and put it into my Mega STE to try it.

I've been interested for a long time to get one to check the modes and performances, and how to program it directly.

The card is not a native NOVA, it's a VME-ISA adapter connected to a VGA ET4000/AX with an ICS 5301-2 DAC. So it can go up to 24 bits mode but is limited to 1MB of RAM.
First of all I had to understand how to make it work because to be honest the documentation is very hard to get.

Installing and using

Basically there is three tools to put in AUTO folder : EMULATOR.PRG, MENU.PRG/XMENU.PRG and STA_VDI.PRG, in this precise order.
You can chose the video mode through MENU or XMENU and both are called by holding or pressing keys at boot time. They also can be ran from the desktop.
There is also another tool, VMG.PRG, which allows to create new modes or modify existing ones by patching the STA_VDI.BIB file in the AUTO folder. It's a tedious process because you need to find the correct pixel timing/resolution to fit into the 31kHz horizontal scan standard and the tool doesn't allow to setup the front/back porch values precisely, so your best bet is to "init" the vertical and horizontal position after each modification.

You need to get the correct driver for your card, if it's a NOVA card then get the official drivers, else this amazing site lists a lot of drivers for various VGA cards:
https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/

Unfortunately the source code of the drivers is not available. It's a shame because there is only a few people still using those cards nowadays. It should be time to free all sources (official NOVA and alternate) before it's too late...

Here is the card working in 1024x768, 256 colors (TOS 2.06):
https://peertube.fenarinarsa.com/w/u2ws ... XXpxrmMYNN

And a 320x240 24 bits mode I created with VMG.PRG:
https://peertube.fenarinarsa.com/w/w7qo ... roRjp3QcS9

Those videos were captured from my Mega STE.

The viewers I used are WATCH_IT.ACC (GIF, doesn't work correctly in >256 colors) and 1STGUIDE.ACC.
Basically software that work with Falcon modes will work with those cards.

Every other pure GEM software should work. Software that force the regular ST output will use the regular ST output (like Protracker). Software that do dirty things on GEM desktop won't work (for instance GFA basic's editor).


Performance

That was the main point I wanted to check. And... it's not very good. With 256 colors you can already feel GEM refresh is a lot slower. Everything scrolling text, in fullscreen (TOS software) or into windows, is really really slow. I don't know if the blitter is used but in any case it doesn't help that much. Switching from 8 to 16 Mhz doesn't change anything.

I saw videos of NOVA cards running on TT and it's a lot faster. I don't know if it's because the TT is faster but it also might be because the performance is better with native NOVA cards, something nobody never talks about.

Since it's quite rare to see VGA cards running on Mega ST/STE I didn't expect anything.

In 640x480x24 bits, it's too slow to be usable. Editing text in devpac is almost unusable as soon as the text needs to scroll.


Direct programming

As I said I couldn't find any driver source code, which is a shame. (please release the drivers source code!!)
The ET4000 documentation is complete so it's of course something to get: http://www.bitsavers.org/components/tse ... r_1990.pdf
However as expected it's very PC-oriented, even if it's stated that it can be implemented for 68000 computers.
The BIOS calls are of course useless, and all the memory mapping may not be relevant.

Also please note that the available modes depend on the DAC installed and not only the ET4000 chip.

Here's my findings:

Everything on the card is memory-mapped on the ST, starting at adress $A00000 (10MB). It means you can't use 14MB ALT-RAM expansions. As a matter of fact it's known that NOVA cards don't work on Falcon with 14MB of RAM.

XBIOS 2 (Physbase) still works and returns the real address of the VGA framebuffer.

From this page https://mikrosk.github.io/doitarchive/doitf030/0807.htm here's the memory mapping used:

$A00000 Monochrome framebuffer
$ABFC00 Memory mapped registers
$B00000 I/O address offset
$C00000 Color framebuffer

I also found this information:
$DC0000 I/O registers

I indeed confirmed that $C00000 is the start of framebuffer in 256 colors and 24 bits modes. Both use linear packed bytes, so 1 byte in 256 colors mode, and 3 bytes (BGR) in 24 bits. I didn't try the planar modes.

I could fill the screen using two different methods:

640x480x24b, software

Code: Select all

; ET4000 direct draw test
; 640x480x24 bits BGR
; framebuffer located at $C00000

	lea	$c00000+(640*480*3),a0
	move.w	#480-1,d6
	move.l	#$ff0088ff,d0
	move.l	#$0088ff00,d1
	move.l	#$88ff0088,d2
	move.l	#$ff0088ff,d3
	move.l	#$0088ff00,d4
	move.l	#$88ff0088,d5
	move.l	d0,a1
	move.l	d1,a2
	move.l	d2,a3
	move.l	d3,a4
	move.l	d4,a5
	move.l	d5,a6

loopY	move.w	#(640/16)-1,d7
	
loopX	movem.l	d0-d5/a1-a6,-(a0)
	dbra	d7,loopX
	dbra	d6,loopY

	; CONIN
	move.w	#$1,-(sp)
	trap	#1
	addq	#2,sp

	clr.w 	-(sp)
	trap	#1
1024x768x8b, blitter

Code: Select all

; ET4000 direct draw test
; 1024x768x8b bits
; framebuffer located at $C00000


	clr.l	-(sp)
	move.w	#$20,-(sp)
	trap	#1
	addq.w	#6,sp

	move.w	#2,-(sp)
	trap	#14
	addq.l	#2,sp

	clr.w	$ffff8a20.w   ; src x byte increment
	clr.w	$ffff8a22.w   ; src y byte increment
	move.l	#$5000,$ffff8a24.w   ; src
	move.w	#-1,$ffff8a28.w ; endmask1
	move.w	#-1,$ffff8a2a.w ; endmask2
	move.w	#-1,$ffff8a2c.w ; endmask3
	move.w	#2,$ffff8a2e.w ; dst x increment
	move.w	#2,$ffff8a30.w ; dst y increment
	move.l	d0,$ffff8a32.w   ; dest
	move.w	#512,$ffff8a36.w  ; x word count
	move.w	#768,$ffff8a38.w ; y count
	move.w	#$010F,$ffff8a3a.w    ; HOP+OP: 1s fill
	clr.b	$ffff8a3d.w    ; skew
	move.b	#%11000000,$ffff8a3c.w ; start HOG
	nop
	nop

	; CONIN
	move.w	#$1,-(sp)
	trap	#1
	addq	#2,sp

	clr.l	-(sp)
	move.w	#$20,-(sp)
	trap	#1
	addq	#6,sp

	clr.w 	-(sp)
	trap	#1
I recorded that on video and checked the running time by counting the number of frames needed.

The conclusion is it's really slow, actually slower that accessing the main ST RAM.

The best performances were of course with the blitter. 1024x768x8b makes 363216 words to fill up, 4 cycles by word, so it should take around 1572k cycles. However it takes 20 frames out of 60, so around 2666k cycles. It's 65% slower than expected.

I remember reading that there is penalty cycles when accessing the VME bus for RAM extension. People on fb also told me it may be because of the ISA port, which is not fast.

So now I wonder if native NOVA cards are faster? In that case it might make them even more valuable than VME-ISA adapters.

If you have a real NOVA card installed in a Mega STE and are willing to test it, please let me know, I can write something to report more accurate results.

A final note about hardware acceleration:

The ET4000 has some sort of memory access optimization, but I didn't really dive into the documentation and I'm not sure it's relevant for the ST.
There is no bitblt hardware built into the ET4000/AX so every operation must be done from the CPU or blitter. However it can do hardware scrolling by displaying only a window of a bigger framebuffer and can do one screen-split.

The latest NOVA cards use different hardware, ATI Mach32 for STE and ATI Mach64 for TT. Those have internal bitblt capabilities but they're very hard to get. ISA Mach32 cards are overpriced nowadays and I couldn't find a proper documentation anyway.
Last edited by fenarinarsa on Sun Sep 12, 2021 8:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by czietz »

fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 1:53 pm As I said I couldn't find any driver source code, which is a shame. (please release the drivers source code!!)
As you mention the actual driver source code is not publicly available. However, you can see a tiny bit of Nova programming in source code form in EmuTOS: https://github.com/emutos/emutos/blob/m ... ios/nova.c. It detects the card (ET4000 or Mach32) and initializes it to 640x480 monochrome. But generally, you would not want to program it directly but go through the calls that the driver offers to you.
EDIT: See https://www.atari-forum.com/viewtopic.p ... 47#p419247.
fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 1:53 pm So now I wonder if native NOVA cards are faster?
What do you mean by "native NOVA card"?
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

czietz wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:04 pmAs you mention the actual driver source code is not publicly available. However, you can see a tiny bit of Nova programming in source code form in EmuTOS: https://github.com/emutos/emutos/blob/m ... ios/nova.c. It detects the card (ET4000 or Mach32) and initializes it to 640x480 monochrome. But generally, you would not want to program it directly but go through the calls that the driver offers to you.
EDIT: See https://www.atari-forum.com/viewtopic.p ... 47#p419247.
Thanks for pointing me to those resources!

I know that it's better to go through VDI for any general use software. This is not my goal here, I'm trying to program it directly to understand how it works.
IMO keeping the source closed after 30 years does more harm than good. They will end lost and unfortunately people disappear :/
People using those cards in the world might be only a few dozens so it's not a market anymore.
czietz wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:04 pm What do you mean by "native NOVA card"?
I mean real NOVA cards that plugs directly into the VME without adapters, so the ET4000 chipset is natively wired to the 68000 bus. The documentation states that it's possible.
Mine is a PC ISA card with a VME-ISA adapter and some people told me it might be slow because of ISA timings.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by czietz »

fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:27 pm IMO keeping the source closed after 30 years does more harm than good. They will end lost and unfortunately people disappear :/
People using those cards in the world might be only a few dozens so it's not a market anymore.
People having the source code might have gotten it under an NDA that prohibits publishing the source code.
fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:27 pm I mean real NOVA cards that plugs directly into the VME without adapters, so the ET4000 chipset is natively wired to the 68000 bus. The documentation states that it's possible. Mine is a PC ISA card with a VME-ISA adapter and some people told me it might be slow because of ISA timings.
Huh? "Real NOVA" cards always consisted of an ISA adapter and and ISA PC card, be it ET4000 or ATI Mach.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by mfro »

There's not much you could learn from ET4000 driver sources that is not available elsewhere.
As you mentioned already, the ET4000AX is a very simple, early SVGA chip that's basically a beefed up original IBM VGA card without any own intelligence. The VDI drivers don't do much besides initialisation (@czietz pointed you to an example of the initialisation sequence) of the card registers for a linear frame buffer and then just write and read to it using CPU access to the memory.
As the cards/ISA bus are meant for the x86, the drivers need to do byte swapping for register and memory access. Examples for "naive" VDI linear frame buffer drivers can be found in the fVDI driver sources.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by stormy »

I don't think fenarinarsa means 'real NOVA', I think he means native VME ET4000 graphics, like a crazy dots. I don't think he realises that NOVA is an ISA adapter (not necessarily graphics) Just an issue of semantics.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by joska »

mfro wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:57 pm There's not much you could learn from ET4000 driver sources that is not available elsewhere.
Except that they have a complete VDI for 8 bit chunky and the truecolour modes. They are not just about initialising the graphics card.
fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 1:53 pm And... it's not very good. With 256 colors you can already feel GEM refresh is a lot slower. Everything scrolling text, in fullscreen (TOS software) or into windows, is really really slow.
I find that most things are faster in 8 bit colour on my ET4000 than in mono. The only exception is scrolling and byte-aligned blitting. This is no surprise really. A simple task like setting a pixel in bitplane modes requires you to read a word per plane, manipulate the relevant bit in each plane and then write everything back. Setting a pixel in chunky mode is just a matter of writing a byte.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

stormy wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 3:37 pm I don't think fenarinarsa means 'real NOVA', I think he means native VME ET4000 graphics, like a crazy dots. I don't think he realises that NOVA is an ISA adapter (not necessarily graphics) Just an issue of semantics.
You're right, my mistake, I don't know the world of VGA cards for ST/TT very well. I thought NOVA was the brand of VME cards, so I guess what I should look for is an owner of a CrazyDots card on MegaSTE, if such a thing ever exist :)

I guess the only way to get bitblt on board is to get an ISA ATI Mach32. Unfortunately they're overpriced.
joska wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 4:27 pm
Except that they have a complete VDI for 8 bit chunky and the truecolour modes. They are not just about initialising the graphics card.
Yes and it seems this version of VDI enables hw acceleration when available on the card.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by mrbombermillzy »

Good bit of research done there, but as you have concluded, theres not much in the way of documentation, other than using ready rolled VDI calls.
fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 5:07 pm I guess the only way to get bitblt on board is to get an ISA ATI Mach32. Unfortunately they're overpriced.
I actually have the Mach32 version in my TT and will look in to this more thoroughly at some point too. However, there are three options here:

1. Use the VDI calls that are already there (as recommended by people here).

2. Do the direct memory mapped register/framebuffer programming (I have some old ATI/TSeng 4000 programming documents, but its even less elegant than old x86 assembly programming; lots of compatability mode register settings and getting round the Intel based segmented memory model setup).

3. The easy way...let the Idek drivers load and set up the card for you (which will then mirror the TT screen writes to the Card, like you noticed with PhyBase() being set) then just write to the screen address. You just need to then work out screen res/bitdepth size and endianess writes.

Again (Im pretty sure I answered this same thing about 2 months ago for someone) I can send some code for the above no.3 and some old ATI/Tseng docs if you like.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

mrbombermillzy wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 6:24 pmAgain (Im pretty sure I answered this same thing about 2 months ago for someone) I can send some code for the above no.3 and some old ATI/Tseng docs if you like.
Yes, please!
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

mrbombermillzy wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 6:24 pm 3. The easy way...let the Idek drivers load and set up the card for you (which will then mirror the TT screen writes to the Card, like you noticed with PhyBase() being set) then just write to the screen address. You just need to then work out screen res/bitdepth size and endianess writes.
Btw in the last update Idek said it was "time to move on" so I'm a bit afraid the drivers might disappear one day.
https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/nVMG/

Such things already happened and will happen again, that's why I'm talking about releasing the source code :)
The last time I remember it happening was about the STE port of R-Type, unfortunately the author passed away and the final version of the project was lost.

For old platforms, it's better to think about preservation.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by mrbombermillzy »

OK...

Ive got a few ATI docs here:
ATI.rar
I also have the 'Programmers Guide to the Mach32 Registers' PDF, but its 23Mb (compresses to ~20Mb), so maybe PM me your email address, as I think the file size limit is 1Mb here! :)

Coding wise, your first post example is on about on par with what I initially did.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by mrbombermillzy »

fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 7:53 pm
Btw in the last update Idek said it was "time to move on" so I'm a bit afraid the drivers might disappear one day.
https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/nVMG/

Such things already happened and will happen again, that's why I'm talking about releasing the source code :)
I know. These things get lost in time.

Unfortunately, like I said before, programming those registers and putting the cards in the correct modes is, in my opinion of the brief flick through the programming manuals, a bit of a pain and pretty far from straightforward.

I will investigate sometime in the future, but Im not looking forwards to it. :lol: Infact the only reason I will do so instead of going the VDI route, is to see if the accelerated bitblt can be harnessed for any sort of practical bob/sprite style manipulation.

As an aside, I along with Frank Lukas were 2 of the three people who were beta testing the new unified drivers you linked to. It would be great if Idek would pass on that knowledge, but, ultimately, its up to him.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by stormy »

mfro wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:57 pm There's not much you could learn from ET4000 driver sources that is not available elsewhere.
As you mentioned already, the ET4000AX is a very simple, early SVGA chip that's basically a beefed up original IBM VGA card without any own intelligence. The VDI drivers don't do much besides initialisation (@czietz pointed you to an example of the initialisation sequence) of the card registers for a linear frame buffer and then just write and read to it using CPU access to the memory.
As the cards/ISA bus are meant for the x86, the drivers need to do byte swapping for register and memory access. Examples for "naive" VDI linear frame buffer drivers can be found in the fVDI driver sources.
mfro I've been testing an et4000 on Emutos and it works in 640x480 mono, is there a way to select a colour mode do you know? thx
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by czietz »

stormy wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 8:41 pm mfro I've been testing an et4000 on Emutos and it works in 640x480 mono, is there a way to select a colour mode do you know? thx
Additional modes (resolution / color depth) requires loading Nova VDI: https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

mrbombermillzy wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 8:13 pmI will investigate sometime in the future, but Im not looking forwards to it. :lol: Infact the only reason I will do so instead of going the VDI route, is to see if the accelerated bitblt can be harnessed for any sort of practical bob/sprite style manipulation.
Yes that was actually why I tried to access the card directly.

Unfortunately the ET4000/AX doesn't have bitblt and the CPU/blitter route is too slow.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by robdaemon »

fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 1:53 pm That was the main point I wanted to check. And... it's not very good. With 256 colors you can already feel GEM refresh is a lot slower. Everything scrolling text, in fullscreen (TOS software) or into windows, is really really slow. I don't know if the blitter is used but in any case it doesn't help that much. Switching from 8 to 16 Mhz doesn't change anything.
I have an ET4000 and Nova card in my Mega STE. Its performance isn't half bad - IF you use NVDI.

Problem: My Mega STE only has 4 MB of RAM, so running NVDI and all that together doesn't leave a lot of RAM afterwards.

I'd be curious as to a CrazyDots card too.... but what I really want is to add some more RAM to my Mega STE.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

robdaemon wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 9:51 pm I have an ET4000 and Nova card in my Mega STE. Its performance isn't half bad - IF you use NVDI.
I wondered about NVDI but since it's a pay software I couldn't test it. Some people said the NOVA VDI is faster so?...
robdaemon wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 9:51 pm I'd be curious as to a CrazyDots card too.... but what I really want is to add some more RAM to my Mega STE.
4MB is the maximum you can put in a Mega STE without using third party mod cards. And you can't go over 10MB in any case if you use a VGA card because the VME port address mapping starts at 10MB.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by robdaemon »

fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 9:58 pm I wondered about NVDI but since it's a pay software I couldn't test it. Some people said the NOVA VDI is faster so?...
Yeah, I downloaded it from a TOSEC collection, if I recall correctly.
fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 9:58 pm 4MB is the maximum you can put in a Mega STE without using third party mod cards. And you can't go over 10MB in any case if you use a VGA card because the VME port address mapping starts at 10MB.
Right - I would be fine with even 8 MB of ST RAM.

My Mega ST has 2 MB of ST-RAM and 8 MB of Alt-RAM, but the Alt-RAM isn't super useful there.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by Cyprian »

robdaemon wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 10:04 pm My Mega ST has 2 MB of ST-RAM and 8 MB of Alt-RAM, but the Alt-RAM isn't super useful there.
well, when you use external graphics card, then there is no difference between ALT-RAM and ST-RAM.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by mrbombermillzy »

@fenarinarsa:

Forgot to mention, I also have this document:


et4000.PNG


Again, just PM if you need it, as its pretty large.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by stormy »

Since we're all talking about NOVA drivers here, could anyone give me some advice here?

I have a standard ST with a VOFA adaptor and an ET4000 with KDA0476 DAC. This works with EmuTOS in standard mono mode. I am trying to find a driver on Ideks site to give me colour.

The only driver for this DAC I can find is in the TT section:
https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/TT030/ET4000/
And in the MSTE section:
https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/MegaSTE/ET4000/
But in the VOFA section, there is no driver for this DAC:
https://silicon-heaven.org/atari/nova/S ... gaST/VoFa/

Can I combine the TT/Mste driver with a VOFA driver? Or have I just missed the driver somewhere? Thanks guys
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by czietz »

stormy wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 9:03 am Can I combine the TT/Mste driver with a VOFA driver? Or have I just missed the driver somewhere? Thanks guys
NOVA and VOFA drivers are not interchangeable. You could try if one of the available VOFA drivers works with your card at least in part; or you could try if NVDI ET4000 works with your card.
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by joska »

fenarinarsa wrote: Sun Sep 12, 2021 9:09 pm Unfortunately the ET4000/AX doesn't have bitblt and the CPU/blitter route is too slow.
What do you expect? The CPU and bus is still the same, but there's several times more data to shift around compared to ST modes. Blitting will be slower, that's the price you pay :) OTOH most other things is faster than stock VDI, personally I find the ET4000 in 256 colours quicker/more responsive than plain TOS on ST videomodes.

If you want quicker blitting you have to find yourself an ATI Mach32. This card has hardware acceleration which Nova VDI use.
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fenarinarsa
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Re: NOVA card (ET4000) on Mega STE

Post by fenarinarsa »

joska wrote: Mon Sep 13, 2021 10:21 am
What do you expect? The CPU and bus is still the same, but there's several times more data to shift around compared to ST modes.
I expected the VME bus to be of the same speed than accessing ST-Ram, but as I said above it’s about 65% slower.
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