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On IBM PC compatibles, the first widely-known display subsystems capable of displaying 640×480 pixels (resulting in square pixels with a 4:3 display) were the MCGA and VGA in 1987. By then, 640×400 was common on other platforms such as the Atari ST and on some PC derivatives like the Tandy 2000.

Were there any other notable, mainstream display adapters or subsystems for IBM PC compatibles supporting 640×480 at least in monochrome, with square pixels on a 4:3 display, before the MCGA? Ideally, with BIOS support (640×480 accessible through interrupt 0x10).

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    When you say "PC" are you only talking about IBM PC and derivatives thereof? Or, only talking about "home" computers or "hobby" computers? In 1984, I had a computer at my desk—my personal computer*—that had a 1280×1024 monochrome display. [*No, I didn't own it. But its owner reserved the computer for my exclusive (i.e., "personal") use.] Oct 30, 2023 at 17:47
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    Perhaps add some more context to the question? E.g., would the Hercules Graphics Card be excluded? Oct 31, 2023 at 0:38
  • MCGA = Multi-Color Graphics Array. "The MCGA supports all CGA display modes plus 640×480 monochrome at a refresh rate of 60 Hz, and 320×200 with 256 colors (out of an 18-bit RGB palette of 262,144) at 70 Hz" Oct 31, 2023 at 0:39
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    @Peter the HGC doesn’t produce square pixels on a 4:3 display. Oct 31, 2023 at 5:49
  • Actually if the Epson Equity 1e was released before the Model 30, then MCGA first appeared in that, possibly before 1987. Oct 31, 2023 at 15:30

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I think the first 640×480 graphics adapter for PCs was IBM’s Professional Graphics Controller, which supported 640×480 with 256 colours in 1984. That wasn’t mainstream however.

I don’t think there was a notable and mainstream display adapter for the IBM PC supporting 640×480 exactly, either in colour or monochrome, before the MCGA and VGA. (The MCGA is arguably not mainstream either.)

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This answer focuses on the environment for affordable high res at the time.

Built In

I'd think, for early DOS PCs with built in graphics,

make pretty good highres candidates although not exactly square pixels.

The

  • 1985 Macintosh XL in turn offered 608x432 with square pixels.

The Mac XL might be of special notice here, as its video is a modification specifically to produce square pixels, as the Lisa's original 720 × 364 pixels were wider than tall. This was done so graphics would give the same impression as on the Mac's 512 × 342.


Card Based

Of course the situation is different for computers without or with replaceable graphics hardware, where resolution wasn't necessarily a feature of the PC.

For example for the Apple II 640x480 type cards were offered as early as 1980. Being rather upper end they sold only in manageable numbers compared with built in and standard type cards.

An interesting example of those might be the 1983 Digital Graphic Systems CAT-100 board for S100 systems, described in Microsystems 10/1983, offering various square resolutions up to 512x480.


Non CRT

Even more different for Computers using different output media than CRT. LCD featured usually rather square dots, independent of resolution. 640x200 and square pixels are why early 1980s portables like Toshiba T1100 or Bondwell had such 'wide' displays. Same goes, although less obvious, for 640x400 LCD. It was back then a real issue that graphics adapted for 640x200 CRT looked extremely odd on portables.

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    Olivetti M24 had 640x400 monochrome on their CGA cards. Oct 31, 2023 at 7:32
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Found the Tseng Labs EV/480, which seems to be available in 1986.

The Vogons Wiki indicates that the card was the first "to offer extended 480 line EGA graphics modes".

The VGA Legacy MKIII provides links to articles in PC Mag. Its price is around $380 (source: BYTE) in 1987. Not really mainstream but the ET2000 chip is still supported by 86Box.

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Speaking strictly about IBM PC and compatibles, there was no "notable mainstream" display or display controller with 640x480 resolution prior to VGA/MCGA that I am aware of. There were other popular resolutions:

  • Both MDA and Hercules (HGC) worked in 720x350 resolution in text mode, and HGC also supported 720x348 monochrome graphics mode
  • Olivetti M24 (aka AT&T PC 6300, Xerox 6060) supported monochrome 640x400 mode for graphics, and it also used that resolution for text modes
  • EGA supported 640x350 resolution in both monochrome and 16 colors
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You may be looking for 'Hercules' graphics. This was a very non-square 720x384 monochrome but well recognized and cloned.

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