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Chapter 48
Mode X Marks the Latch

The Internals of Animation’s Best Video Display Mode

In the previous chapter, I introduced you to what I call Mode X, an undocumented 320×240 256-color mode of the VGA. Mode X is distinguished from mode 13H, the documented 320×200 256-color VGA mode, in that it supports page flipping, makes off-screen memory available, has square pixels, and, above all, lets you use the VGA’s hardware to increase performance by as much as four times. (Of course, those four times come at the cost of more complex and demanding programming, to be sure—but end users care about results, not how hard the code was to write, and Mode X delivers results in a big way.) In the previous chapter we saw how the VGA’s plane-oriented hardware can be used to speed solid fills. That’s a nice technique, but now we’re going to move up to the big guns—the VGA latches.

The VGA has four latches, one for each plane of display memory. Each latch stores exactly one byte, and that byte is always the last byte read from the corresponding plane of display memory, as shown in Figure 48.1. Furthermore, whenever a given address in display memory is read, all four planes’ bytes at that address are read and stored in the corresponding latches, regardless of which plane supplied the byte returned to the CPU (as determined by the Read Map register). As with so much else about the VGA, the above will make little sense to VGA neophytes, but the important point is this: By reading one display memory byte, 4 bytes—one from each plane—can be loaded into the latches at once. Any or all of those 4 bytes can then be written anywhere in display memory with a single byte-sized write, as shown in Figure 48.2.

Figure 48.1
  How the VGA latches are loaded.

Figure 48.2
  Writing 4 bytes to display memory in a single operation.

The upshot is that the latches make it possible to copy data around from one part of display memory to another, 32 bits (four pixels) at a time—four times as fast as normal. (Recall from the previous chapter that in Mode X, pixels are stored one per byte, with four pixels in a row stored in successive planes at the same address, one pixel per plane.) However, any one latch can only be loaded from and written to the corresponding plane, so an individual latch can only work with every fourth pixel on the screen; the latch for plane 0 can work with pixels 0, 4, 8..., the latch for plane 1 with pixels 1, 5, 9..., and so on.

The latches aren’t intended for use in 256-color mode—they were designed to allow individual bits of display memory to be modified in 16-color mode—but they are nonetheless very useful in Mode X, particularly for patterned fills and screen-to-screen copies, including scrolls. Patterned filling is a good place to start, because patterns are widely used in windowing environments for desktops, window backgrounds, and scroll bars, and for textures and color dithering in drawing and game software.

Fast Mode X fills using patterns that are four pixels in width can be performed by drawing the pattern once to the four pixels at any one address in display memory, reading that address to load the pattern into the latches, setting the Bit Mask register to 0 to specify that all bits drawn to display memory should come from the latches, and then performing the fill pretty much as we did in the previous chapter—except that each line of the pattern must be loaded into the latches before the corresponding scan line on the screen is filled. Listings 48.1 and 48.2 together demonstrate a variety of fast Mode X four-by-four pattern fills. (The mode set function called by Listing 48.1 is from the previous chapter’s listings.)

LISTING 48.1 L48-1.C

/* Program to demonstrate Mode X (320x240, 256 colors) patterned
   rectangle fills by filling the screen with adjacent 80x60
   rectangles in a variety of patterns. Tested with Borland C++
   in C compilation mode and the small model */
#include <conio.h>
#include <dos.h>

void Set320x240Mode(void);
void FillPatternX(int, int, int, int, unsigned int, char*);

/* 16 4x4 patterns */
static char Patt0[]={10,0,10,0,0,10,0,10,10,0,10,0,0,10,0,10};
static char Patt1[]={9,0,0,0,0,9,0,0,0,0,9,0,0,0,0,9};
static char Patt2[]={5,0,0,0,0,0,5,0,5,0,0,0,0,0,5,0};
static char Patt3[]={14,0,0,14,0,14,14,0,0,14,14,0,14,0,0,14};
static char Patt4[]={15,15,15,1,15,15,1,1,15,1,1,1,1,1,1,1};
static char Patt5[]={12,12,12,12,6,6,6,12,6,6,6,12,6,6,6,12};
static char Patt6[]={80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,80,15};
static char Patt7[]={78,78,78,78,80,80,80,80,82,82,82,82,84,84,84,84};
static char Patt8[]={78,80,82,84,80,82,84,78,82,84,78,80,84,78,80,82};
static char Patt9[]={78,80,82,84,78,80,82,84,78,80,82,84,78,80,82,84};
static char Patt10[]={0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15};
static char Patt11[]={0,1,2,3,0,1,2,3,0,1,2,3,0,1,2,3};
static char Patt12[]={14,14,9,9,14,9,9,14,9,9,14,14,9,14,14,9};
static char Patt13[]={15,8,8,8,15,15,15,8,15,15,15,8,15,8,8,8};
static char Patt14[]={3,3,3,3,3,7,7,3,3,7,7,3,3,3,3,3};
static char Patt15[]={0,0,0,0,0,64,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,89};
/* Table of pointers to the 16 4x4 patterns with which to draw */
static char* PattTable[] = {Patt0,Patt1,Patt2,Patt3,Patt4,Patt5,Patt6,
void main() {
   int i,j;
   union REGS regset;

   for (j = 0; j < 4; j++) {
      for (i = 0; i < 4; i++) {
   getch(); = 0x0003;   /* switch back to text mode and done */
   int86(0x10, &regset, &regset);

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Graphics Programming Black Book © 2001 Michael Abrash