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Video Mode Selection Support 2.13
(c) 1995--1999 Martin Mares, <>
1. Intro
This small document describes the "Video Mode Selection" feature which
allows the use of various special video modes supported by the video BIOS. Due
to usage of the BIOS, the selection is limited to boot time (before the
kernel decompression starts) and works only on 80X86 machines.
** Short intro for the impatient: Just use vga=ask for the first time,
** enter `scan' on the video mode prompt, pick the mode you want to use,
** remember its mode ID (the four-digit hexadecimal number) and then
** set the vga parameter to this number (converted to decimal first).
The video mode to be used is selected by a kernel parameter which can be
specified in the kernel Makefile (the SVGA_MODE=... line) or by the "vga=..."
option of LILO (or some other boot loader you use) or by the "vidmode" utility
(present in standard Linux utility packages). You can use the following values
of this parameter:
NORMAL_VGA - Standard 80x25 mode available on all display adapters.
EXTENDED_VGA - Standard 8-pixel font mode: 80x43 on EGA, 80x50 on VGA.
ASK_VGA - Display a video mode menu upon startup (see below).
0..35 - Menu item number (when you have used the menu to view the list of
modes available on your adapter, you can specify the menu item you want
to use). 0..9 correspond to "0".."9", 10..35 to "a".."z". Warning: the
mode list displayed may vary as the kernel version changes, because the
modes are listed in a "first detected -- first displayed" manner. It's
better to use absolute mode numbers instead.
0x.... - Hexadecimal video mode ID (also displayed on the menu, see below
for exact meaning of the ID). Warning: rdev and LILO don't support
hexadecimal numbers -- you have to convert it to decimal manually.
2. Menu
The ASK_VGA mode causes the kernel to offer a video mode menu upon
bootup. It displays a "Press <RETURN> to see video modes available, <SPACE>
to continue or wait 30 secs" message. If you press <RETURN>, you enter the
menu, if you press <SPACE> or wait 30 seconds, the kernel will boot up in
the standard 80x25 mode.
The menu looks like:
Video adapter: <name-of-detected-video-adapter>
0 0F00 80x25
1 0F01 80x50
2 0F02 80x43
3 0F03 80x26
Enter mode number or `scan': <flashing-cursor-here>
<name-of-detected-video-adapter> tells what video adapter did Linux detect
-- it's either a generic adapter name (MDA, CGA, HGC, EGA, VGA, VESA VGA [a VGA
with VESA-compliant BIOS]) or a chipset name (e.g., Trident). Direct detection
of chipsets is turned off by default (see CONFIG_VIDEO_SVGA in chapter 4 to see
how to enable it if you really want) as it's inherently unreliable due to
absolutely insane PC design.
"0 0F00 80x25" means that the first menu item (the menu items are numbered
from "0" to "9" and from "a" to "z") is a 80x25 mode with ID=0x0f00 (see the
next section for a description of mode IDs).
<flashing-cursor-here> encourages you to enter the item number or mode ID
you wish to set and press <RETURN>. If the computer complains something about
"Unknown mode ID", it is trying to tell you that it isn't possible to set such
a mode. It's also possible to press only <RETURN> which leaves the current mode.
The mode list usually contains a few basic modes and some VESA modes. In
case your chipset has been detected, some chipset-specific modes are shown as
well (some of these might be missing or unusable on your machine as different
BIOSes are often shipped with the same card and the mode numbers depend purely
on the VGA BIOS).
The modes displayed on the menu are partially sorted: The list starts with
the standard modes (80x25 and 80x50) followed by "special" modes (80x28 and
80x43), local modes (if the local modes feature is enabled), VESA modes and
finally SVGA modes for the auto-detected adapter.
If you are not happy with the mode list offered (e.g., if you think your card
is able to do more), you can enter "scan" instead of item number / mode ID. The
program will try to ask the BIOS for all possible video mode numbers and test
what happens then. The screen will be probably flashing wildly for some time and
strange noises will be heard from inside the monitor and so on and then, really
all consistent video modes supported by your BIOS will appear (plus maybe some
`ghost modes'). If you are afraid this could damage your monitor, don't use this
After scanning, the mode ordering is a bit different: the auto-detected SVGA
modes are not listed at all and the modes revealed by `scan' are shown before
all VESA modes.
3. Mode IDs
Because of the complexity of all the video stuff, the video mode IDs
used here are also a bit complex. A video mode ID is a 16-bit number usually
expressed in a hexadecimal notation (starting with "0x"). You can set a mode
by entering its mode directly if you know it even if it isn't shown on the menu.
The ID numbers can be divided to three regions:
0x0000 to 0x00ff - menu item references. 0x0000 is the first item. Don't use
outside the menu as this can change from boot to boot (especially if you
have used the `scan' feature).
0x0100 to 0x017f - standard BIOS modes. The ID is a BIOS video mode number
(as presented to INT 10, function 00) increased by 0x0100.
0x0200 to 0x08ff - VESA BIOS modes. The ID is a VESA mode ID increased by
0x0100. All VESA modes should be autodetected and shown on the menu.
0x0900 to 0x09ff - Video7 special modes. Set by calling INT 0x10, AX=0x6f05.
(Usually 940=80x43, 941=132x25, 942=132x44, 943=80x60, 944=100x60,
945=132x28 for the standard Video7 BIOS)
0x0f00 to 0x0fff - special modes (they are set by various tricks -- usually
by modifying one of the standard modes). Currently available:
0x0f00 standard 80x25, don't reset mode if already set (=FFFF)
0x0f01 standard with 8-point font: 80x43 on EGA, 80x50 on VGA
0x0f02 VGA 80x43 (VGA switched to 350 scanlines with a 8-point font)
0x0f03 VGA 80x28 (standard VGA scans, but 14-point font)
0x0f04 leave current video mode
0x0f05 VGA 80x30 (480 scans, 16-point font)
0x0f06 VGA 80x34 (480 scans, 14-point font)
0x0f07 VGA 80x60 (480 scans, 8-point font)
0x0f08 Graphics hack (see the CONFIG_VIDEO_HACK paragraph below)
0x1000 to 0x7fff - modes specified by resolution. The code has a "0xRRCC"
form where RR is a number of rows and CC is a number of columns.
E.g., 0x1950 corresponds to a 80x25 mode, 0x2b84 to 132x43 etc.
This is the only fully portable way to refer to a non-standard mode,
but it relies on the mode being found and displayed on the menu
(remember that mode scanning is not done automatically).
0xff00 to 0xffff - aliases for backward compatibility:
0xffff equivalent to 0x0f00 (standard 80x25)
0xfffe equivalent to 0x0f01 (EGA 80x43 or VGA 80x50)
If you add 0x8000 to the mode ID, the program will try to recalculate
vertical display timing according to mode parameters, which can be used to
eliminate some annoying bugs of certain VGA BIOSes (usually those used for
cards with S3 chipsets and old Cirrus Logic BIOSes) -- mainly extra lines at the
end of the display.
4. Options
Some options can be set in the source text (in arch/i386/boot/video.S).
All of them are simple #define's -- change them to #undef's when you want to
switch them off. Currently supported:
CONFIG_VIDEO_SVGA - enables autodetection of SVGA cards. This is switched
off by default as it's a bit unreliable due to terribly bad PC design. If you
really want to have the adapter autodetected (maybe in case the `scan' feature
doesn't work on your machine), switch this on and don't cry if the results
are not completely sane. In case you really need this feature, please drop me
a mail as I think of removing it some day.
CONFIG_VIDEO_VESA - enables autodetection of VESA modes. If it doesn't work
on your machine (or displays a "Error: Scanning of VESA modes failed" message),
you can switch it off and report as a bug.
CONFIG_VIDEO_COMPACT - enables compacting of the video mode list. If there
are more modes with the same screen size, only the first one is kept (see above
for more info on mode ordering). However, in very strange cases it's possible
that the first "version" of the mode doesn't work although some of the others
do -- in this case turn this switch off to see the rest.
CONFIG_VIDEO_RETAIN - enables retaining of screen contents when switching
video modes. Works only with some boot loaders which leave enough room for the
buffer. (If you have old LILO, you can adjust heap_end_ptr and loadflags
in setup.S, but it's better to upgrade the boot loader...)
CONFIG_VIDEO_LOCAL - enables inclusion of "local modes" in the list. The
local modes are added automatically to the beginning of the list not depending
on hardware configuration. The local modes are listed in the source text after
the "local_mode_table:" line. The comment before this line describes the format
of the table (which also includes a video card name to be displayed on the
top of the menu).
CONFIG_VIDEO_400_HACK - force setting of 400 scan lines for standard VGA
modes. This option is intended to be used on certain buggy BIOSes which draw
some useless logo using font download and then fail to reset the correct mode.
Don't use unless needed as it forces resetting the video card.
CONFIG_VIDEO_GFX_HACK - includes special hack for setting of graphics modes
to be used later by special drivers (e.g., 800x600 on IBM ThinkPad -- see
Allows to set _any_ BIOS mode including graphic ones and forcing specific
text screen resolution instead of peeking it from BIOS variables. Don't use
unless you think you know what you're doing. To activate this setup, use
mode number 0x0f08 (see section 3).
5. Still doesn't work?
When the mode detection doesn't work (e.g., the mode list is incorrect or
the machine hangs instead of displaying the menu), try to switch off some of
the configuration options listed in section 4. If it fails, you can still use
your kernel with the video mode set directly via the kernel parameter.
In either case, please send me a bug report containing what _exactly_
happens and how do the configuration switches affect the behaviour of the bug.
If you start Linux from M$-DOS, you might also use some DOS tools for
video mode setting. In this case, you must specify the 0x0f04 mode ("leave
current settings") to Linux, because if you don't and you use any non-standard
mode, Linux will switch to 80x25 automatically.
If you set some extended mode and there's one or more extra lines on the
bottom of the display containing already scrolled-out text, your VGA BIOS
contains the most common video BIOS bug called "incorrect vertical display
end setting". Adding 0x8000 to the mode ID might fix the problem. Unfortunately,
this must be done manually -- no autodetection mechanisms are available.
If you have a VGA card and your display still looks as on EGA, your BIOS
is probably broken and you need to set the CONFIG_VIDEO_400_HACK switch to
force setting of the correct mode.
6. History
1.0 (??-Nov-95) First version supporting all adapters supported by the old
setup.S + Cirrus Logic 54XX. Present in some 1.3.4? kernels
and then removed due to instability on some machines.
2.0 (28-Jan-96) Rewritten from scratch. Cirrus Logic 64XX support added, almost
everything is configurable, the VESA support should be much more
stable, explicit mode numbering allowed, "scan" implemented etc.
2.1 (30-Jan-96) VESA modes moved to 0x200-0x3ff. Mode selection by resolution
supported. Few bugs fixed. VESA modes are listed prior to
modes supplied by SVGA autodetection as they are more reliable.
CLGD autodetect works better. Doesn't depend on 80x25 being
active when started. Scanning fixed. 80x43 (any VGA) added.
Code cleaned up.
2.2 (01-Feb-96) EGA 80x43 fixed. VESA extended to 0x200-0x4ff (non-standard 02XX
VESA modes work now). Display end bug workaround supported.
Special modes renumbered to allow adding of the "recalculate"
flag, 0xffff and 0xfffe became aliases instead of real IDs.
Screen contents retained during mode changes.
2.3 (15-Mar-96) Changed to work with 1.3.74 kernel.
2.4 (18-Mar-96) Added patches by Hans Lermen fixing a memory overwrite problem
with some boot loaders. Memory management rewritten to reflect
these changes. Unfortunately, screen contents retaining works
only with some loaders now.
Added a Tseng 132x60 mode.
2.5 (19-Mar-96) Fixed a VESA mode scanning bug introduced in 2.4.
2.6 (25-Mar-96) Some VESA BIOS errors not reported -- it fixes error reports on
several cards with broken VESA code (e.g., ATI VGA).
2.7 (09-Apr-96) - Accepted all VESA modes in range 0x100 to 0x7ff, because some
cards use very strange mode numbers.
- Added Realtek VGA modes (thanks to Gonzalo Tornaria).
- Hardware testing order slightly changed, tests based on ROM
contents done as first.
- Added support for special Video7 mode switching functions
(thanks to Tom Vander Aa).
- Added 480-scanline modes (especially useful for notebooks,
original version written by, patched by
Jeff Chua, rewritten by me).
- Screen store/restore fixed.
2.8 (14-Apr-96) - Previous release was not compilable without CONFIG_VIDEO_SVGA.
- Better recognition of text modes during mode scan.
2.9 (12-May-96) - Ignored VESA modes 0x80 - 0xff (more VESA BIOS bugs!)
2.10 (11-Nov-96)- The whole thing made optional.
- Added the CONFIG_VIDEO_400_HACK switch.
- Added the CONFIG_VIDEO_GFX_HACK switch.
- Code cleanup.
2.11 (03-May-97)- Yet another cleanup, now including also the documentation.
- Direct testing of SVGA adapters turned off by default, `scan'
offered explicitly on the prompt line.
- Removed the doc section describing adding of new probing
functions as I try to get rid of _all_ hardware probing here.
2.12 (25-May-98)- Added support for VESA frame buffer graphics.
2.13 (14-May-99)- Minor documentation fixes.