The Haiku/BeOS Tip Server
Tips and tricks for Haiku/BeOS users

Better graphics for unsupported video cards

Contributed by: Jeremie Wood
This tip is valid for: Both BeOS and Haiku

Update: It turns out that this method does not work if you are booting BeOS 5 Personal Edition from within Windows or from a floppy. It will work if you install PE to a real partition. This is unfortunate, and hopefully Be will find a way to re-enable this option for PE users. The tip still applies for everyone running BeOS from a real partition (this includes BeOS 5 Pro users).

Update 2: An exception to the exception. Even if your card doesn’t do VESA 2, it may be possible to run BeOS in color. See Eric Ball’s addition at the end of this tip.

Update 3: Make things easy on yourself and download David Sowsy’s VESA Accepted from BeBits — it takes care of a lot of this stuff automatically.

If you’re using R4.5 or later and your video card isn’t supported, there’s still a pretty good chance it’ll be supported in VESA mode. However, VESA support is not enabled by default. To enable it, you’ll need to do the following (you may also want to read the tip Make Boot Options Permanent):

First, you want to test whether your card will work in VESA mode at all (it probably will). As your machine starts to boot BeOS, hit the Spacebar (as soon as the BeOS splash screen appears). This will bring up a menu of boot options. Scroll down to “Fail-Safe Video” and you’ll see a menu of possible resolutions. Select one from the list, navigate back to the main menu, and select “Continue Booting.” BeOS should come up in the selected resolution. If it works, you’ll want to make this a permanent setting so you don’t have to do this every time.

Rename the file ~/config/settings/kernel/drivers/sample/vesa.sample to ~/config/settings/kernel/drivers/vesa.

Now edit the file and uncomment the mode line. Subsititute the desired width, height, and colour depth for the placeholders. eg:


mode 800 600 16 

Reboot, and with any luck you’ll be in business! If it doesn’t work with the settings you’ve chosen, try different combinations of screen size and colour depth and you might have better luck. It’s also very important not to allow any extra white space in this line, no extra spaces on the end, and no extra lines. Do be sure to add a hard return after the single line above.

Note that VESA 2.0 support is required to use VESA with the BeOS. I find the Microsoft System Diagnostics (c:windowsmsd.exe or c:dosmsd.exe) program which comes with Windows 95 (but not 98) and older versions of DOS very handy for determining whether or not your video card supports VESA 2.0. Note also that screen savers do not work in VESA mode.


Eric Ball (ekball@arvotek.net) points out that it’s possible to get color mode even if your card doesn’t support VESA 2! Here’s how:

If BeOS 5 PE doesn’t support your graphics card you may be able to use the VESA option. First check to see whether your graphics card has native VESA support by using the Spacebar at boot option as described above. But if when you press spacebar you don’t get the option to change video, don’t give up hope.

  1. Download SciTech Display Doctor for DOS from http://www.scitechsoft.com. (And while you are there, join the SciTech Products for BeOS mailing list at http://www.scitechsoft.com/sdd_be .html.)
  2. Run the self extracting file (sdd653.exe), then the install.exe.
  3. Create a DOS boot disk (format a: /q /u /s).
  4. From the SciTech Display Doctor subdirectory copy univbe.exe and uconfig.exe to the floppy.
  5. From the BeOS subdirectory copy loadbeos.com and zbeos to the floppy.
  6. Reboot using the floppy.
  7. Run univbe to detect your graphics chip and set up the VESA mode.
  8. Run loadbeos and press spacebar when the logo appears.
  9. Select your favorite graphics mode and enjoy BeOS in color.

Please note that SciTech Display Doctor is a commercial program. You will be able to use it for a trial period, but you should purchase it if you plan to keep on using it.


James Perih (jamesperih@hotmail.com) adds the following information:

In addition to the commercial SciTech product, your older video card may have come with a free VESA-enabler tsr, in the case of my ATI Mach64 CT.

Thus, much like the SciTech method of booting BeOS with color support, you would instead run your card’s own tsr, then loadbeos. Often times, using the VESA-enabler tsr that came with your video card is perferrable over using the more generic and commercial SciTech Display Doctor.

You can check your companies web site, or other driver sites for the TSR you need, often falling under the category of DOS Drivers, VESA drivers, or others to that effect.

Posted in Hardware


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