Category Archives: The SPEA cards

The SPEA cards

Between 1990 and 1995 the German multimedia-card manufacturer SPEA was one of the leading companies in this sector (When ATI was comparably small and NVIDIA not even founded).
They offered a wide range of display-cards, from a simple ET4000 up to very expensive CAD/CAM cards using various graphic chips like the TIGA controllers, Hitachi ACRTC and… of course the i860.
Later SPEA was bought by Diamond Multimedia (still in business) and some employees started their own company to finalize the graphic chip they already started to design when being with SPEA (read more here and here… both articles in German, sorry).

Two SPEA cards using the i860 were built. The first was the

SPEA Fire

SPEA-Fire

This full-size ISA card features a 33MHz i860 with 4MB own RAM as well as 2MB VRAM. An Inmos G364 graphics controller is in charge for creating a picture on the monitor – BTW that’s the last and fastest graphics controller which was manufactured by Inmos.
Theoretically, this card could be called an INMOS B020 on steroids.

As this is “just” a 3D subsystem, a standard VGA was still needed for all 2D stuff. Its video signal was then looped-through the SPEA Fire… just like the Voodoo cards did it some years later.

A recent photo I’ve fond on ePay shows, that there was a proprietary memory expansion available, which has to be plugged next to the i860. Probably expanding the RAM to 8MB, which seems to be a considered a reasonable amount of RAM back in those days.

SPEAFire_RAM_upgrade

Interestingly the manual briefly touches the possibility to be programmed with own applications using Intels APX system. Sad enough, the APX is not included on the driver disks and was sold seperately… for a lot of money.

FGA860

SPEA-FGA860

The FGA860 is the bigger brother of the SPEA Fire. Actually it’s two boards sandwhiched together: The one on top is -again- called the Fire-Board. But this time it is designed completely different. There is no RAMDAC or such… just the i860, RAM (16MB) and some custom- and bus-logic.
Behind this, there’s a full-blown TIGA card called FGA-4E, using a TMS34020/32Mhz with 4MB DRAM and 2MB VRAM. Not so usual is the also included VGA part on the FGA-4E. This way you can save an ISA slot for the needed VGA card.

The Fire-Board was available for 5700 German Marks, the FGA-4E added another hefty 10.820 Marks making a total of 16.520 Marks (1990/91 that was about US$ 8000)!
But for that money you got a “graphic subsystem” which was capable of 300.000 2-D vectors/s (10 Pixel long) and amazing 30.000 gouraud-shaded polygones/s (10 × 10 Pixels).
[Back then, that really was amazing… today every mobile phone might be better in 3D. Here are some numbers for comparison/amusement:
3DLabs GLINT 300SX: 500.000/300.000]

Here’s a view from the top… not really much to see. It’s very hard to pry those cards from each other. I guess, they were never intended to be separated again.

SPEA-FGA860_sandwich

If you are in need of the drivers, I make them available here. It’s the IMHO most recent version from August 1994 including an AutoCAD 13 driver update.