Random Access Memory Digital-to-Analog Converter (RAMDAC) is a combination of three fast DACs with a small SRAM used in computer graphics display adapters to store the colour palette and to generate the analog signals (usually a voltage amplitude) to drive a colour monitor. The logical colour number from the display memory is fed into the address inputs of the SRAM to select a palette entry to appear on the output of the SRAM. This entry is composed of three separate values corresponding to the three components (red, green, and blue) of the desired physical colour. Each component value is fed to a separate DAC, whose analog output goes to the monitor, and ultimately to one of its three electron guns (or equivalent in non-CRT displays).

DAC word lengths range usually from 6 to 10 bits. The SRAM's word length is three times the DAC's word length. The SRAM acts as a color lookup table (CLUT). It usually has 256 entries (and thus an 8-bit address). If the DAC's word length is also 8 bits, we have a 256 x 24-bit SRAM which allows a selection of 256 out of 16777216 (16,7 million) possible colours for the display. The contents of the SRAM can be changed while the display is not active (during display blankingClarifyme|date=March 2008 times).

The SRAM can usually be bypassed and the DACs can be fed directly by display data, for Truecolor modes. In fact this has become very much the normal mode of operation of a RAMDAC since the mid-1990s, so the programmable palette is mostly retained only as a legacy feature to ensure compatibility with old software. In many newer graphics cards, the RAMDAC can be clocked much faster in true color modes, when the SRAM is not used.

For a quick estimation on the pixel clock for a given output, you can do:: horizontal pixels x vertical lines x 1,4 (for blankings) x refresh rate: (based on [http://www.vesa.org/Public/GTF/GTF_V1R1.xls VESA's GTF calculation sheet] )Usually the RAMDAC rating has to be (quite a bit) better than the pixel clock to produce sharp edges.

As of 2006, the DAC of a modern graphics card runs at a clock rate of 400 MHz. However, video cards based on the XGI Volari XP10 run at 420 MHz DAC. The highest documented DAC frequency ever achieved on a production video card for the PC platform is 550 MHz, set by [http://www.barco.com/corporate/en/products/product_specs.asp?element=2600 BarcoMed 5MP2 Aura 76Hz] by Barco. However, [http://www.planar.com/products/docs/MBU/archive_manual/mn-planar-dome-md8pci-inst.pdf DOME Md8/PCI] supports up to 2560x3200@68Hz over a single output, which would have 810 MHz pixel clock rate under VESA GTF calculation.


The term "RAMDAC" did not enter into common PC-terminology until IBM introduced the IBM VGA display adapter in 1987. The IBM VGA adapter used the INMOS G171 RAMDAC. The INMOSClarifyme|date=March 2008 VGA RAMDAC was a separate chip, featured a 256-color (8-bit CLUT) display from a palette of 262,144 possible values, and supported pixel-rates up to ~30MPixel/sec.

As clone manufacturers copied IBM VGA hardware, they also copied the INMOS VGA RAMDAC. Advances in semiconductor manufacturing and PC processing-power allowed RAMDACs to add "direct-color" operation, which is a mode of operation that allows the SVGA-controller to pass a pixel's color-value directly to the DAC-inputs, thereby bypassing the RAM lookup-table. Another innovation was Edsun's CEGDAC, which featured hardware-assisted anti-aliasing for line/vector draw-operations.

By the early 1990s, the PC chip-industry had advanced to the point where RAMDACs were integrated into the display controller chip, thus reducing the number of discrete chips and the cost of video cards. Consequently, the market for standalone RAMDACs disappeared. Today, RAMDACs are still manufactured and sold for niche applications, but in obviously limited quantity.

In modern PCs, the RAMDAC(s) are integrated into the display controller chip, which itself may be mounted on an add-in-board or integrated into the motherboard core-logic chipset. The original purpose of the RAMDAC, to provide a CLUT-based display-mode, is rarely used, having been supplanted by true-color display-modes. However, many CAD and video editing applications use hardware overlay, combined with the programmable palette, to ensure the user interface does not disrupt the rendering of editing window.

As the use of DVI, HDMI, and other digital interface technology becomes increasingly mainstream, the "DAC" portion of the RAMDAC will likely become obsolete. Digital interfaces uses TMDS module.


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