DOS Days

Imagine 128 Series 2

Launched in 1995, the Imagine 128 Series 2 was essentially two graphics cards in one. For 3D graphics it used the Imagine 128 II chip but for basic 2D graphics it came with a Cirrus Logic CL-GD5424 graphics processor on the rear of the card with 512 KB of onboard memory (the top-right memory chip).

Released 1996
Chipset Imagine128 Series II + Cirrus Logic CL-GD5424
Standards MDA, Hercules, CGA, EGA, VGA
Memory 4 MB EDO DRAM (Series 2e), 4 or 8 MB EDO VRAM, or 8 MB H-VRAM (Series 2)
Ports 9-pin DSUB (RGB analogue video out)
Part # PC00FPLO-2
Price At launch: $699 (S2 4 MB), $399 (S2e 4 MB), $699 (S2 8 MB)
Nov 1996: $499 (S2 4 MB), $349 (S2e 4 MB)
See Also Number Nine Imagine 128

There is also an SOJ socket in the lower-right to expand this 2D video portion of the card to 1 MB. For fast Windows GUI acceleration and 3D graphics, the card had the Imagine128 II processor chip. This chip doesn't get used at all until the Windows driver loads, so all of the DOS-based display is handled by the CL chip.

The primary upgrade over the earlier Imagine 128 from the year before was the introduction of an Intelligent Command Processor that was a VLIW processor which enabled the CPU to send multiple drawing commands directly into the graphics memory in a FIFO (First In, First Out) execution manner. The CPU was offloaded by a hardware DIB conversion (Microsoft Windows Device Independent Bitmap). The graphics accelerators chip’s 100 MHz memory controller could handle 800 megabytes per second single ported performance with EDO-DRAM, and with VRAM even more. It came with a Direct3D driver and the company claimed it could do 610,000 Gouraud-shaded 50-pixel triangles per second in 16-bit color.

The address the limitations of the Imagine 128, Number Nine added Gouraud shading, along with 16-bit and 32-bit Z-buffering, volume clipping, spatial blending, double display buffering, and a 256-bit video rendering engine.

There were four distinct versions of the Imagine 128 Series 2 which determined the type and size of installed memory:

  • Imagine 128 Series 2 (4 MB VRAM)
  • Imagine 128 Series 2 (8 MB VRAM) - announced Nov 1996, available early Q1 1997
  • Imagine 128 Series 2 (8 MB H-VRAM)
  • Imagine 128 Series 2e (4 MB DRAM)

"While other manufacturers claimed to have 128-bit graphics, Number Nine believes that the Imagine 128, Imagine 128 Series 2 and Series 2e are the only true 128-bit graphics cards in the world, utilizing 128-bit technology in all
three major subsystems -- the graphics processor, the internal processor bus and data path to graphics memory. The 128-bit data path enables the graphics system to draw either sixteen (16) 8-bit pixels, eight (8) 16-bit pixels, or four (4) 32-bit true-color pixels per clock cycle -- twice that of any other graphics accelerator on the market today. A number of industry-leading technological innovations puts the Imagine 128 Series 2 in a class of its own

  • 256-bit Video Engine -- using a fast Pentium and a standard 4X CD-ROM drive, users will be amazed at the "movie-quality" full-motion, full- screen video display. The Imagine 128 Series 2 supports software-based MPEG decoding, which means no additional hardware is required to view popular MPEG titles.
  • Workstation-Class 3D Functionality -- the Imagine 128 Series 2 brings true workstation-class 3D rendering capabilities to the PC platform, enabling users to run OpenGL applications under Windows NT 3.51 (via the 3D-DDI interface), and under Windows NT 4.0 (using Microsoft's Mini-Client Driver).
  • Zero Wait-State PCI Local Bus Interface -- designed to keep pace with future system performance improvements, a zero wait-state PCI bus (Rev. 2.1 compliant) interface enables maximum bursts of data coming across the PCI bus.
  • Intelligent Command Processor -- this on-board engine effectively enables parallel processing by autonomously calculating a long series of graphics instructions while freeing up the CPU to execute further application level instructions.

The Imagine 128 Series 2 was architected from the ground up to perform best under 32-bit, multi-tasking operating systems, such as Windows 95, Windows NT, OS/2 and Unix.


Board Revisions

Just one board revision is known: A01. The only BIOS version known is 3.01.03.




In the Media

"Both the Imagine 128 ($699 list) and its newer sibling, Imagine 128 Series 2 ($699 list) combine top-flight performance with exceptional utilities and productivity tools. An Editor's Choice in last year's high-end review, the Imagine 128 has aged well, and remains an excellent choice for handling large bitmaps and vector graphics. The Series 2 boasts a souped-up 2-D graphics engine, and as-yet untapped features that promise to deliver enhanced video and 3-D capabilities as well.

Both cards feature Number Nine's Hawkeye95 display control utilities, a user-oriented suite that is among the best designed in the business. Accessible via the Display Properties dialogue or directly from the Windows 95 taskbar, Hawkeye95's individual components work together to form an integrated set of tools.

Valuable features include an excellent status page that lists everything from the current resolution and driver version to the bus size and BIOS revision. A simple but effective Monitor Adjustment utility lets you safely adjust the refresh rate and create custom configurations, and a well-designed color calibration utility called Color Perfect includes individual linear adjustments in RGB or CMY color space.

The Imagine 128 and Imagine 128 Series 2 run neck and neck at the top end of the 2-D accelerator market. Each delivers super-fast refresh rates, topping out at an astounding 83 Hz in 1,600-by-1,200 16-bit color mode - if you can afford a monitor to handle that combination.

While we were unable to test the Series 2's performance in several areas - the card's MPEG and CAD software arrived after we had completed testing, and its OpenGL drivers for Windows NT remain unavailable as of this writing - a look at the card's WinBench 96 scores provides some insight into the chip's raw capability. At a resolution of 1,024-by-768 in true color mode, the card achieved an excellent Graphics Winmark score of 26.5. To put this into perspective, consider that most current midrange products process roughly the same number of pixels in 256-color mode as the Series 2 processes in true-color mode.

Under Windows 95, the early Series 2 drivers we tested did not completely deliver on the new chip's promise, but were solid and complete and include advanced DirectDraw support. The card is expected to scale nicely as Pentium Pro processors and 64-bit PCI buses enter the market, thanks in part to its Intelligent Command Processor and support for PCI bursts.

The older Imagine 128, no performance slouch itself, was the fastest Photoshop and QuarkXPress engine, finishing just ahead of the Series 2.

If you want rock-solid images and the best tools in the business consider either Imagine card. As Number Nine improves he breadth and depth of the Series 2 drivers, this promises to be the card to watch - JH"

PC Magazine, 25th June 1996


Setting it Up


Operation Manual

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Original Utility Disk

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More Pictures

Unknown source

Images of this card are courtesy of Vogons member Artex