Speed Up Your Windows... 2 the Max
by Alan Zisman (c)
1993. First published
in Our Computer Player, 21 September, 1993
2 The Max Cheetah ISA and Local Bus
and 2 The Max TrueSpeed ISA Windows accelerated video
from: Focus Information Systems
4046 Clipper Court
price ????? (Cheetah VL-local bus is $165)
local distributor ?????
If you're running Windows after having worked in DOS,
first reaction was how much
slower many things seemed. It's not just you... everyone has that
feeling, and with good reason.
Windows always runs in graphics mode. Instead of just
calling up a
letter 'A' that's hardwired into the computer's bios, it has to
paint the 'A' from scratch. This lets you display all those nice
fonts and sizes, but it takes longer.
There are, however, a few, relatively inexpensive
things you can do
to help the situation. First, get at least 4 megs of RAM. 8 is
better. (And still more if you're working with large graphics files).
After that, the best way you can speed up your Windows
setup is to
get a faster video card. This can have a bigger effect than you may
think... even if you're not working with graphics or DTP. I saw a
demonstration of a long EXCEL spreadsheet macro, running on two
machines that were identical except that one had an accelerated
video card. On the standard machine, the macro took about 2 minutes
to run; faster screen redraws got that to just under 60 seconds on
the machine with the accelerator card.
There are lots of companies producing video cards to
Windows... luckily, there are only a few chipsets that are widely
used. Most cards with the same chipset produce virtually identical
TNC Industrial-Electronics, a Taiwan corporation,
North America by Focus Information Systems, is currently marketing
three very similar cards with different, but well-respected chipsets.
Both, marketed as '2 the Max' series cards, can be counted on to speed
up your Windows performance.
The CHEETAH comes with a chipset from CIRRUS LOGIC,
TRUESPEED card features a chipset from S-3. Both can be bought with
either 1 or 2 megs of video memory. As well, you can get the Cheetah
in your choice of
ISA (standard 16-bit AT bus) or VL-bus (VESA standard).
Both share a number of additional features.
Installation is pretty
straightforward; while there are a few jumpers on each, in most
cases, they can be ignored. Both include drivers for Windows 3.1, in
a range of modes, including 24-bit colour at 640x480 resolution. As
well, both support OS/2 ver 2, AutoCad, Lotus 1-2-3, and Word
Perfect 5.1 with drivers. The ISA Cheetah board includes drivers for
few more DOS applications than the TrueSpeed.
Each ISA package also includes a 'lite' version of the
package, a Windows program that permits retouching and exporting of
graphics files in a wide range of formats. Each version will only
work if you are using the appropriate video card.
So if they're so similar, why are there two ISA cards
chipsets, from the same company?
Price and performance.
If you're using a standard, non-accelerated video
card, you'll find
that either will produce a noticable speed boost. The S-3 based
TrueSpeed card will be a bit faster (20% or so), and will cost a bit
more. It's as simple as that.
The performance boost will depend on a number of
factors... what are
you using now? Even among non-accelerated video cards, there can be
quite a difference in speed depending on brand. (Oak, for example,
is low-priced, but slow... Trident is a little pricier, and not
quite as slow). As well, video drivers can make quite a difference.
Running the PC Magazine WinBench test software, I found my ATI
Wonder card reported about 35% faster performance using the new SVGA
drivers available from Microsoft (use your modem to call their BBS
in Toronto at
1-416-507-3022, and look for SVGA.EXE... or check around locally).
As well, the number of colours you need to display
will affect your
speed, as will the screen resolution. The more colours, and the more
pixels on screen, the harder your video card has to work. Again,
Finally, I found the most performance boost on a
machine with a
faster CPU... I tested these cards on two computers, a 386DX-33, and
a 486-DX2-66. I used WinBench, to get a Graphics WinMark score. (
WinBench is available free from PC Magazine, or on many BBSs. Look
for the latest version, 3.11... video card manufacturers had found
ways to cheat on earlier versions of this test). My comparison was
to an ATI Wonder XL-24, a fairly common, non-accelerated Super VGA
card, running the new Microsoft SVGA driver, in 800x600 resolution,
with 256 colours (8 bit colour).
On the 386 machine, the Cheetah tested at about 50%
the TrueSpeed came in at about 80% faster. Not bad.
On the 486, however,while the ATI card was rated as
faster than on
the 386, the TrueSpeed clocked in at 4 times as fast! (8.8 million
pixels per second vs 2.2 million, for you statistics fans). The Cheetah
lagged behind, but still was about 3 times as fast as the ATI. For
the modest price increase, the TrueSpeed seems like the better value
for most users.
GET ON THE BUS !
All this was testing the ISA versions... as I discuss
elsewhere in this
issue, if you have a VESA local bus motherboard, this is really the
go (and if you're buying a new 486 computer or motherboard, make sure
one with VESA VL-local bus).
I pulled out the TrueSpeed board, and popped in the
Cheetah XL-- the
bus version. When I ran the same tests, the PC Magazine WinBench 3.11,
card delivered a ferocious 14.9 million pixels per second... almost
fast as the standard ISA-bus TrueSpeed, even though that board uses
faster S3 chipset. ( I tested these boards at 800x600 resolution, using
colours. 640x480 pixels or fewer colours should produce higher scores
Then I compared both boards at 24-bit colour. 16.7
million colours was
inconceivable on a low-priced video setup just a year or two ago. And
still isn't something I'd recommend most of us use everyday... it just
too much power.
Still, people working with scanned images or other
this kind of resolution, and for the rest of us, it's nice to be able
these sorts of images in the real colours now and then.
My original ATI XL-24 could produce this resolution,
hence the name.
120 thousand or so pixels per second was barely tolerable. The
board again was about four times as fast. Better, but still noticeably
The local bus Cheetah-XL pushed the WinBench score up near the 1.4
pixel mark... making this resolution still a lot slower than running
colours, but quick enough to feel productive.
You should be aware that these cards, like other
accelerators', work by storing frequently used Windows graphics
commands in the cards' ROM... because of that, they won't speed up
performance of non-Windows, DOS programs. Cards with on-board
graphics co-processor chips are needed to speed up ALL video. You'll
pay more for this performance boost, however.
A couple of other minor quibbles, however... the
support, but never mentions the phone number. Presumably, you'd have
to phone long distance during office hours to find out how to get
BBS support, which is the best way to stay on top of the continually
As well, the S-3 TrueSpeed card re-set itself into an
interlaced 800x600 mode each time I rebooted. There was a utility
that fixed this, and it promised to write a line into my AUTOEXEC.
BAT file to make this automatic, but it never did. Eventually, I
figured out how to set it by hand, and that problem went away.
(When in doubt with DOS programs, try typing the
by "/?"... ever since DOS 5 introduced it, this has been becoming a
standard for command line help. It worked for me in this case).
I won't even mention glaring mis-spellings in the
Some high-end co-processed cards can cost from
$1000-2000. For that
price, you get 24-bit colour at finer resolutions, typically up to
1024x768 (and sometimes further). These cards can't do that. If you
bit colour, you get it at 640x480 pixels or not at all.
But any of this trio will provide a noticeable
speed-up of your Windows
operations, finally letting your Windows word processor seem almost
as responsive as your old DOS standby. And these cards are hardly more
expensive than many name-brand, non-accelerated S-VGA cards.
If you have a local-bus computer, get the local-bus
version... the Cheetah-
XL. There's really no price difference for better than double the
performance. For users with standard ISA-bus computers, the S-3 based
TrueSpeed board provides very good value.