Number Nine Visual Technology

Number Nine Visual Technology

Number Nine Visual Technology Corporation was a manufacturer of video graphics chips and cards from 1982 to 1999. Number Nine developed the first 128-bit graphics processor (the Imagine 128), as well as the first 256-color and 16.8 million color cards.[1]

The name of the company, as well as many of its products (e.g., Revolution, Imagine, Pepper, Ticket to Ride) refer to Beatles songs. At system boot up, Number Nine cards' video BIOS splash screens display short phrases from Beatles songs related to the cards' model names. Card model names were usually preceded by a "#9" moniker. Like 3dfx, Number Nine often had interesting retail box art.



Number Nine was founded in 1982 by Andrew Najda and Stan Bialek as Number Nine Computer Corporation in Lexington, Massachusetts. The company was renamed Number Nine Visual Technology Corporation in the early 1990s. Number Nine initially made an Apple II accelerator board, then later moved into the design and manufacture of high end PC graphics cards in 1983. In the mid to late 1990s, Number Nine lost market share due to price and performance competition from other video card makers, particularly Matrox, 3dfx, Diamond, and ATI. Number Nine had been slow to respond to the boom in 3D graphics, and had continued to emphasize high quality, fast 2D graphics. On December 20, 1999, Number Nine filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced a "letter-of-intent" for S3 Inc. (later S3 Graphics Co.) to buy substantially all assets and intellectual property of Number Nine. By mid 2000, Number Nine had ceased operations entirely and S3 had completed acquisition of Number Nine's assets. In 2002, two former Number Nine engineers, James Macleod and Francis Bruno, formed Silicon Spectrum, Inc., and licensed Number Nine's graphics technology from S3 to implement in FPGA devices.[2][3][4][5]

For five years after Number Nine closed its doors, a former employee kept Number Nine's website up and running, with driver downloads and a forum available for self-help. A volunteer and #9 enthusiast provided regular, impromptu technical support on the forum for the last two and a half years the site was active. Several former employees checked in to help occasionally. The website finally went off the air for good in March 2005, and the URL name was taken over by an on-line gambling company.

Number Nine Video Cards and Graphics Accelerator Chips

Number Nine made AGP and PCI graphics cards with their own proprietary graphics accelerators (the Imagine line GPUs). Contemporaneously, Number Nine made AGP, PCI, VLB and ISA graphics cards using S3 Graphics' accelerator chips. Their very last AGP card used an Nvidia GPU.

On their early ISA cards (1980s, pre-Imagine), Number Nine used Texas Instruments TMS-340x0 co-processors coupled with custom Number Nine-designed application specific chips, which could only handle very primitive graphics functions such as clipping. Nevertheless, this was a major accomplishment back in the day.

Number Nine Proprietary Graphics Processors and Video Cards

Imagine 128 (early original version, note old company name)
Imagine 128 Series II
Revolution 3D (Ticket to Ride), PCI bus
Revolution IV (Ticket to Ride 4), PCI bus

The Imagine series GPUs (also called graphics accelerators) were Number Nine's own in-house designs. The Imagine series went through four generations:

  1. Imagine 128 (Imagine)
  2. Imagine 128-II (Imagine2)
  3. T2R (marked "Ticket to Ride"; sometimes marked "Imagine-3")
  4. T2R4 (marked "Ticket to Ride IV").

The Imagine 128 GPU introduced a full 128-bit graphics processor—GPU, internal processor bus, and memory bus were all 128 bits. However, there was no, or very little, hardware support for 3D graphics operations.[6]

The Imagine 128-II added Gouraud shading, 32-bit Z-buffering, double display buffering, and a 256-bit video rendering engine.[7]

The Ticket to Ride (Imagine-3) supported WRAM and both the AGP and PCI busses, had a 3D floating point setup engine, bilinear filtering and perspective correction, Gouraud shading, alpha blending, interpolated fogging, specular lighting, double and triple display buffering, 16-, 24- and 32-bit Z-buffering, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, and hardware MIP mapping.[8]

The Ticket to Ride IV included an integrated 250 MHz RAMDAC, support for up to 32 MB SDRAM, full scene anti-aliasing, per pixel fog, specular, and alpha effects, 10-level detail per pixel MIP mapping, bilnear and trilinear filtering, 8 bits per texel, 8 KB on-chip texture cache, hardware MPEG-1 and MPEG-2, and a full IEEE 754 floating point pipeline 3D rendering setup engine.[9][10]

These graphics accelerators were used on the following Number Nine model video cards:

#9 Model #9 GPU Memory PC Bus Architecture
Imagine 128 Imagine 128 4M, 8M VRAM PCI
Imagine 128 Series 2 Imagine 128-II 4M, 8M H-VRAM PCI
Imagine 128 Series 2e Imagine 128-II 4M EDO DRAM PCI
Revolution 3D T2R 4M or 8M (base), 12M, 16M WRAM PCI, AGP
Revolution IV T2R4 16M, 32M SDRAM PCI, AGP
Revolution IV-FP T2R4 32M SDRAM PCI, AGP

These 1990s video cards were Number Nine's flagship cards of their day (the Imagine 128 and 128 Series 2 were very expensive). None required a heatsink on the GPU. The original Imagine 128 was introduced in 1994. The Revolution IV was introduced in 1998.

In addition to a standard analog VGA connector, the Revolution IV-FP (also called the Revolution IV-1600SW) had an OpenLDI digital interface connector for the Silicon Graphics, Inc (SGI) 1600SW digital flat panel monitor. The Revolution IV-FP was one of only two standard video adapters with the OpenLDI interface for SGI's 1600SW digital flat panel monitor; the other was the 3Dlabs Oxygen VX1-1600SW. (SGI's 1600SW video adapters were proprietary to their O2, 320, and 540 graphics workstations. Formac made a limited number of PCI cards with OpenLDI for Apple Macs.)

The OpenLDI interface is neither physically nor electrically compatible with the modern DVI-D interface. This was the early days of digital video connections, and there were several competing, incompatible standards. OpenLDI for stand-alone displays disappeared, but several aftermarket manufacturers made adapters to convert OpenLDI to DVI-D so more modern video cards would work with the 1600SW monitor.

The 1600SW monitor was far ahead of its time, and was eagerly sought long after it was out of production. For this reason, for a time, Revolution IV-FP and Oxygen VX1-1600SW video cards commanded a premium price in the used market, long after they were out of production.

Number Nine Video Cards with Heatsinks

Number Nine's last two graphics cards were the only ones to require heatsinks on the GPU. Both outperformed the Revolution IV.

  • The SR9 was Number Nine's last retail card. It used an S3 Savage4 GPU with a small heatsink on the GPU.
  • An OEM-only AGP card using an Nvidia TNT2-M64 GPU and [16M? or] 32M SDRAM. The heatsink is larger than the one on the SR9. This Nvidia-based card has been variously called (probably unofficially) the "M64" or "Pepper M32," but it was never a retail, end-user product.

Number Nine Video Cards using S3 Graphics Processors

Number Nine had a close business relationship with S3 throughout the 1990s. While the Imagine series GPUs and cards were Number Nine's flagship product, contemporaneously, Number Nine produced a series of less expensive video graphics cards using S3's GPUs. The S3-based cards were usually introduced in groups of three, at three price points below the Imagine cards. They carried the same model name, but different model numbers and GPUs. Except for the SR9, Number Nine's last, best S3 card, none of these video cards had heatsinks on the graphics processing chip (GPU).

The S3-based video cards were, in approximate order of introduction:

#9 Model S3 GPU Memory PC Bus Architecture
GXE 64 864 1M, 2M DRAM ISA?, VLB, PCI
GXE 64 Pro 964 2M, 4M VRAM ISA?, VLB, PCI
GXE 64/S3 Trio 764 (Trio) 1M, 2M DRAM ISA?, VLB, PCI
Vision 330 764 (Trio) 1M, 2M DRAM VLB, PCI
Motion 331 765 (Trio V+) 1M, 2M DRAM VLB, PCI
Motion 531 868 1M, 2M DRAM VLB, PCI
Motion 771 968 2M, 4M VRAM VLB, PCI
Reality 332 325 (ViRGE) 2M EDO DRAM PCI
Reality 772 988 (ViRGE VX) 2M, 4M VRAM PCI
Reality 334 357 (ViRGE GX2) 4M SGRAM PCI, AGP
SR9 Savage4 (small heatsink on GPU) 8M (some OEM), 16M, 32M SDRAM PCI, AGP

Early Number Nine Graphics Cards

With the exception of the GXi Lite, all of these 1980s to early 1990s era graphics cards were large, full length cards.

The TIGA-based cards were made from about 1986 to 1992. These cards were very expensive in their day, ranging in price from $1000 to $2500 at introduction. Cards using a Texas Instruments TMS-340xx TIGA co-processor (in approximate order of introduction):

#9 Model TIGA co-processor Memory PC Bus Architecture
Pepper TMS-34010  ?? ISA
Pepper SGT TMS-34010 1M, 4M? ISA
Pepper Pro 1024[11] TMS-34010 1.5M, 2M MCA, ISA
Pepper Pro 1280 TMS-34010  ?? MCA?, ISA
Pepper Pro 1600 TMS-34010  ?? MCA?, ISA
GX TMS-34010?  ?? 1M DRAM? + 2M VRAM? MCA?, ISA
GXi Lite TMS-34020 1M DRAM + 1M VRAM MCA?, ISA

Ye truly olde cards (no co-processor, pre-1986, pre-VGA standard):

#9 Model Display Resolution Color Palette[12] PC Bus Notes
Number Nine Graphics System CGA CGA ISA
Revolution 512x8 512×480 256 colors selectable from a palette of 16.7 million ISA uses NEC µPD7220
Revolution 512x32 512×480 245,760 colors selectable from a palette of 16.7 million ISA uses NEC µPD7220
Revolution 1024x8 1024×768 from 1024×1024 256 colors selectable from a palette of 16.7 million ISA
Revolution 2048x4 1280×960 from 2048×1024 16 colors selectable from a palette of 4096 ISA

The Revolution series ranged in price from $1995 to $2995 at introduction.

See also

List of defunct graphics chips and card companies


  1. ^ "Number Nine Visual Technology and S3 Inc. -- Business to Continue as Usual". PR Newswire. 23 June 1999. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Number Nine Visual Technology Company History". Number Nine Visual Technology. 1998. URL no longer available. 
  3. ^ "Number Nine - Computer Dictionary Definition". Retrieved Jan. 8, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Number Nine Visual Technology, Inc. Announces Merger Agreement". Reuters. 20 Dec 1999. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2011. 
  5. ^ "Silicon Spectrum, Inc. - Overview". Retrieved Jan. 8, 2011. 
  6. ^ Notes on Imagine 128 retail box.
  7. ^ Notes on Imagine 128 Series 2 retail box.
  8. ^ Notes on Revolution 3D retail box
  9. ^ Notes on Revolution IV retail box.
  10. ^ "Number Nine Launches 'Ticket To Ride(TM) IV,' Its Fourth and Most Powerful 128-bit 3D/2D/Video Graphics Chip". PR Newswire. 26 May 1998. Retrieved Jan. 13, 2011. 
  11. ^ Number Nine Announces Series of Graphics Cards. InfoWorld - Google Books. 20 Nov 1989. Retrieved Jan. 13, 2011. 
  12. ^ Manufacturers of Higher Resolution Graphics Boards. InfoWorld - Google Books. 20 Oct 1986. Retrieved Mar. 14, 2011. 

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