Over the years, Sun Microsystems has produced quite a few graphics cards for their various series of workstations and servers. Some of these cards are their own design, while others are re-badged versions of cards from other manufacturers. This writeup attempts to provide a list of the more modern Sun graphics cards.
Information on the older Multibus and VMEbus cards used in the Sun2, Sun3 and very early Sun4 series is virtually impossible to come by, even harder than the cards themselves. Therefore, this writeup will focus on the SBus, UPA, PCI and PCI Express graphics cards sold by Sun, and a very few third-party cards.
Sun SBus graphics cards
SBus graphics cards are used in Sun4c, Sun4d, Sun4m and first-generation Sun4u machines.
- The bwtwo is the basic monochrome, unaccelerated framebuffer built into the SPARCStation IPC and used as the low-end graphics option on the SPARCStation 1 and 2. While it was available for the later Sun4m SPARCStations, and technically works in the Ultra 1 and Ultra 2, it was basically obsolete even when new.
- Not to be confused with two different, unrelated Multibus graphics cards called cgthree (and CG3), the SBus cgthree was an unaccelerated color framebuffer. It provided 8-bit color at up to 1152x900. While a separate SBus card version was produced, this was most often used as the graphics subsystem of the SPARCStation IPX and SPARCStation LX.
- Also called GX, GX+, TGX and TGX+, which were technically four different versions of the same card. It is also called LEGO, for low-end graphics option. It was not low-end when introduced, and provided highly accelerated 8-bit color graphics. This card first appeared as the high-end graphics option on the SPARCStation 1, and persisted until the introduction of the Sun Ultra 60 some ten years later. The original GX and GX+ cards appeared both in double-wide and single-wide versions. TGX and TGX+ were faster, but otherwise identical. The "plus" versions had 4MB of RAM, allowing resolutions up to 1600x1200 in 8-bit color, while the standard versions had 1MB and were limited to 1152x900.
- The cgtwelve was a huge, triple-wide SBus card providing slow, but technically accelerated, graphics in either 8-bit or 24-bit color depth. It was also capable of providing an 8-bit PseudoColor overlay atop an otherwise TrueColor 24-bit display. This was never very widely used, as it could only be installed in the SS1 and SS2. In theory it could be installed in the top tier of SBus slots on an SS10 or SS20, or perhaps in an Ultra 2, but almost nobody would want to, and this would cause cooling issues.
- Graphics Tower
- Sun's first 3D card for SBus, this was actually an external device that attached to the system using a single-wide SBus card and a proprietary cable. The GT was mostly intended as a second head to be used for 3D graphics work, though it could in theory function as a machine's console. When X was not running, it was almost unusably slow, though its performance was rather better with the accelerated driver running.
- Also called ZX, and later Turbo ZX, this was another 3D graphics card. It was also very slow on the console. Unlike the GT, this one fit entirely internally, although just barely. It ran extremely hot, making it somewhat problematic in the machines it would be most useful in.
UPA graphics cards
The Ultra Port Architecture expansion slot was first introduced in the Sun Ultra 2 in the horizontal form factor, which mounted parallel to the motherboard. This same form factor was used in the Ultra 1e and the Ultra Enterprise 450. Later, a vertical form factor was introduced, in the Ultra 10, and also used in the Ultra 30, 60, 80 and Blade 1000/2000.
- The Creator, also called FFB (Fast Framebuffer), was the first UPA graphics card, providing 24-bit hardware accelerated 2D graphics at up to 1600x1200, with an 8-bit overlay plane. Several versions of this existed. The Creator featured 5MB of RAM and supported only 2D graphics. The Sun OpenGL libraries provided software fallbacks, however, allowing it to be used, slowly, with 3D apps. The Creator3D had 16MB of RAM, and could provide hardware double-buffering as well as 3D graphics acceleration. The second-generation Creator/Creator3D cards, called FFB2, also added hardware colormap support and overlay planes which eliminated colormap flashing. The third generation, FFB2+, added architectural improvements for up to a 75% performance boost. All versions were produced in both horizontal and vertical variants. (I have not ever actually seen a vertical first-generation 2D Creator, however)
- The Elite3D, also called AFB (Advanced Framebuffer), was a high-end framebuffer providing very fast 2D and 3D graphics in 24-bit color with 8-bit and 24-bit overlays. It did not provide hardware texturing, but there was acceleration for geometry, transformation and lighting. The AFB supported 24-bit color at up to 1280x1024. Two versions, M3 and M6, were produced. The M6 had twice as many geometry processors as the M3 and was, broadly, twice as fast, but also twice as wide physically. The M6 existed in both horizontal and vertical versions, the M3 was vertical only. A revised version was released later, having higher geometry performance per geometry processor.
- The XVR-1000 was the fastest and most featureful UPA graphics card Sun ever produced. It provided hardware accelerated 2D and 3D graphics in 30-bit color with 8, 16 and 24-bit overlays, hardware texturing and geometry as well as stereo video modes. The XVR-1000 was powered by a dual-core 500MHz MAJC 5200 processor, with 32MB of system RAM, 72MB of framebuffer RAM and 256MB of texture RAM. Because of its huge texture RAM, the XVR-1000 is very fast for scenes involving large textures, but its geometry performance is unimpressive. It also includes dual output: both a standard 13W3 video connector, and a second head connected to either an HD15 port, a DVI-I port or an S-Video port.
Author's Note: There does appear to be a UPA version of the Expert3D, but since it's primarily a PCI card, the UPA version of which is merely bridged, it's listed under the PCI section.
PCI graphics cards
- The PGX and PGX24 are imports from the PC and Mac world. These are just ATI Rage cards with Open Firmware ROMs installed. The PGX has 2MB of RAM and supports 1280x1024 at 8-bit color. With a modified driver it could theoretically support 24-bit color at 800x600. The PGX24 is a PGX with 4MB of RAM, supporting 1280x1024 at 24-bit. Both cards have the same graphics accelerator chip, and provide hardware-accelerated 2D, but no 3D.
- Originally sold as the TechSource Raptor GFX. The bootup icon still identifies the PGX32 as the Raptor. It uses a 3DLabs Permedia2 graphics accelerator with 8MB of RAM, providing 24-bit color at 1600x1200. Its drivers provide no hardware-accelerated 3D, though the chip is theoretically capable.
- Basically a gussied up PGX24. The PGX64 features 8MB of RAM and an ATI 3D Rage Pro graphics chip. It can do 24-bit color at 1600x1200 like the PGX32, and also like it, has 3D acceleration features that aren't exposed by the driver. It's almost exactly equivalent to the PGX32 in most respects.
- Hardwarily speaking, the XVR-100 is the exact same card as ATI's Radeon 7000 Mac Edition, but with different firmware. It provides high-speed 2D graphics at up to 2048x1536 in 24-bit color, and can support dual heads, one VGA and one DVI. It has 32MB of RAM. In dual-head mode, the displays are limited to 1600x1200. Console output is only supported on the VGA head on most XVR-100s, but later firmware revisions support console on DVI, too. Though the Radeon 7000 has 3D acceleration, the Solaris drivers don't enable it. The 3D acceleration is usable under Linux, however. This is a 32-bit, 66MHz PCI card.
- The first high-end 64-bit PCI graphics accelerator for SPARC systems. The Expert3D uses a 3DLabs Wildcat graphics chipset, with 64MB of RAM shared between framebuffer and texture cache. It has hardware texturing, and overall falls between the Elite3D and XVR-1000 in capability. A UPA version of this exists, which is essentially the same card with a UPA-PCI bridge kluged on.
- The Expert3D-Lite was the mid-range version of the Expert3D. It has only one geometry processor and half the RAM of the Expert3D. Its 2D performance, however, is every bit as snappy. Also, it features an HD15 video output, instead of the Expert3D's 13W3. This card will fit in the smaller chassis of the Blade 100 and Blade 150 workstations, unlike the full-length Expert3D. Like the Expert3D, it uses a 64-bit PCI interface
- Essentially an Expert3D-Lite on steroids. This card uses the 3DLabs Wildcat II chipset, and has 128MB of RAM. It is faster than the Expert3D-Lite on 2D operations and generally even with the full-on Expert3D, though much faster for scenes with huge textures.
- This is the fourth Sun 3D graphics accelerator with a 3DLabs chipset, this time the Wildcat IV. It provides DVI output, 128MB of video RAM, and hardware acceleration for almost the entire OpenGL 2.0 spec.
- Exactly twice an XVR-600. This is two Wildcat IV chipsets on one card, each driving one DVI output, with extra glue logic to keep them synchronized. They both feed from a single 384MB framebuffer. The XVR-1200 is the fastest and most capable graphics card for Sun SPARC machines that lack PCI Express.
Author's Note: There is a card called XVR-200, but it appears to be a third-party card using the name under license. In any case, I can't find any solid information about it.
PCI Express graphics cards
- The Sun XVR-300 is actually a rebadged ATI FireMV card. Like the XVR-100, this card has only 2D features under Solaris. This is less understandable in this case, due to the FireMV's workstation-class 3D capabilities. The XVR-300 provides much the same feature set as the XVR-100, but with more room for pixmap cache due to its large 128MB framebuffer.
- The XVR-2500 is based on the 3DLabs Wildcat Realizm 500, with 512MB of RAM. It is the fastest graphics card available for SPARC systems at present.
I had previously listed the XVR-2500 as having 256MB of RAM - this was wrong. The Wildcat Realizm 300 has 256. The Realizm 500 has 512, and the 800 has 768.
- Also called SX or occasionally spam, the cgfourteen was the accelerated 24-bit framebuffer built into the SPARCStation 20 and the SPARCStation 10 SX. It provided accelerated 24-bit graphics at either 1152x900 (with the 4MB VSIMM) or 1280x1024 (with the 8MB VSIMM). It could provide both 8-bit and 24-bit visuals at the same time. The SX required the installation of a video RAM SIMM in a specially designed slot. Both systems had two such slots, and could technically have 2 SX heads, but the second one required an auxiliary card that fits into an SBus slot.
- tcx was the onboard graphics subsystem used in the SPARCStation 4 and Javastation. A version for the SPARCStation 5 also existed, that fit into the AFX slot. In the SS4 and Javastation, it provided 8-bit graphics at 1152x900, with some acceleration, though not as fast as the cgsix. On the SS5, it offered 24-bit color at 1280x1024, and was a bit slower than the SX.
- Technically PCI, but not available as a separate card, the XVR-50 is the internal name for the onboard Rage XL graphics on some newer SPARC servers. The Rage XL on some late-model Ultra 10 motherboards is almost the same thing as an XVR-50, but the system recognizes it as a PGX-24 or PGX-64.