By Marc Spiwak
Becoming a graphics wizard under Windows 95 is harder than it appears. True, some of that old black magic was needed to install, configure and use video cards in Windows 3.11. Windows 95, on the other hand, makes it easier to install and work with graphics cards--but only if you have the right card.
We tested a handful of video cards in a Dell 100MHz Pentium desktop system running Windows 95. Most of the video cards tested were 64-bit, 2MB PCI cards. All of them performed similarly, which we expected. What we didn't expect was how easy some of the cards were to install, and how difficult, if not impossible, others turned out to be.
In testing These video cards, we learned that it's best to avoid products that don't make any mention of Windows 95 on the box. They were probably assembled and packaged long before Windows 95 debuted, which means the documentation is unlikely to include Win95 support. In addition, the 16-bit Windows 3.11 drivers will be of little use under Win95. Even if you can get the 16-bit drivers to work in Win95, performance will suffer.
Downloading newer drivers is rarely a problem these days, now that they are available from many different sources. The problem is using these drivers, which often turn out to be troublesome beta versions. We had problems with all of the Win95 drivers that we downloaded or obtained via e-mail. In addition, none of the downloaded driver bundles came with utilities--so even if we were able to get the drivers to work, many of the cards' other features became unavailable. Most manufacturers mentioned that Win95 utilities would be ready soon.
Other problems we had with some of the cards were probably due to outdated BIOSes on the video boards. Win95's Plug-and-Play operation depends on peripherals having valid Plug-and-Play BIOS information, so it's important to have a video card that's designed for use with Win95.
We had no problems at all with two graphics cards, one from STB and the other from Number Nine. The packages for both of these cards specifically stated that their contents were compatible with Windows 95, and both contained factory-install diskettes specific to Win95 with the proper, working drivers, as well as complete sets of utilities for display adjustment. Both of these cards installed flawlessly, and the utilities allowed us to adjust everything, including refresh rates and color balance.
When you have the right hardware, software and drivers, installing video cards in Windows 95 is a relatively straightforward process. If you are going to remove an older video card from the computer or disable built-in video, you must first set the computer to run plain VGA video. Any video card--including the one you will be installing--can display VGA without special drivers.
To switch to plain VGA, right-click anywhere on the desktop and then select Properties. When you see the Display Properties screen, click on the Settings tab. This tab brings up another menu; click on the Change Display Type button and then on the Change button next to the Adapter Type entry. Select the Show All Devices radio button on the bottom left. At the top of the manufacturers' column, you'll see an item called Standard Display Types. Select VGA and click on OK. When the computer restarts, it will be in vanilla VGA mode.
After you install the new video card, you need to update the Windows 95 Registry and install the new drivers. First, bring up the Control Panel and double-click on the Display icon. Then, as you did before, click on the Settings tab on the Display Properties screen. The Settings tab brings up another menu, where you will click on the Change Display Type button. Click on the button for changing adapter type to display the Select Device window.
If you have a floppy disk with drivers, click on the Have Disk button in the Select Device window. Now, just continue choosing OK or Close until you are asked to restart. After a reboot, the proper drivers will have been loaded.
Next, install any utilities included with your drivers. Again, you will be asked to restart Windows 95 to complete the installation. If all goes well, the driver specific to the card you've installed should be running, and the accompanying utilities should be functional.
The typical video control utility lets you adjust many different video parameters, handling features that just aren't available with Win95 alone. An icon toolbar, dynamic resolution switching, multiple and virtual desktops, zooming, bird's-eye views and more options are available; specific features vary from one manufacturer to the next.
So far, we've covered what happens if everything goes according to plan. When dealing with computers, however, the best plans often bear little resemblance to reality. If you have trouble getting dedicated graphics drivers to work, you can always try loading Windows 95's generic drivers. The OS includes a huge database of drivers for all kinds of hardware, including drivers for specific video cards and generic drivers.
Generic drivers are specific to the chipset on the video card. For example, the S3 chipset is quite popular, and Win95 can install drivers for each S3 version--the S3 Vision 864 or 964, for example. The only problem with these drivers is that you lose any special functions the dedicated drivers provide. The card will work and you can adjust resolution through the Win95 Control Panel, but some handy features, such as video acceleration or on-the-fly resolution switching, might not be available.
Default drivers are often your only option if you can't get the manufacturer's drivers to work. To load a default driver, follow the steps above to find and click on the Change Display Type button. Then choose to change the adapter type and select the Show All Devices radio button on the bottom left of the screen. At the top of the column of manufacturers, you'll find standard display types. Just select the driver that matches. You should be able to find a driver within Win95's library that will at least allow your video card to work.
If you're having trouble with a particular video card, you can adjust the video acceleration to determine if the problem is caused by the card itself and its drivers, or by a conflict with other software. To lower the acceleration, click on the Performance tab in the System Properties box, and then click on the Graphics button. Set the acceleration slider to None, click on OK and restart your computer. If the problem still occurs with unaccelerated video, it's probably not related to the video card. If the problem does not occur in the unaccelerated mode, the drivers are the culprit.
With Windows 95, installing a graphics card can be painless or perilous, depending on your approach. Follow the steps we've described here, and odds are you'll have a simple and straightforward installation.
Click Here to see a
7.02KB bitmap image of artwork
which goes with this article, entitled:
Video Card Table
905-882-2600, fax 905-882-2620
214-234-8750, fax 214-234-1306
Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.