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What is SVGA?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne

Super Visual Graphics Array (SVGA) or “Super VGA” is an umbrella term for a wide array of graphic standards that followed the VGA standard set by IBM in 1987. When used to define a resolution, however, it typically refers to 800 x 600 pixels.

While IBM established the earlier standards that included Color Graphics Adapter (CGA) and Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA), by the time the industry was ready for the successor to VGA, various manufacturers were mass-producing IBM clones. NEC Home Electronics and a handful of other graphics card manufacturers formed the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) to develop new standards for cross-compatible graphics display adapters. The result was SVGA, released in 1989.

SVGA Monitor cable.
SVGA Monitor cable.

VESA developed a family of hardware protocols to support the standard. Perhaps most notable was the VESA Local Bus (VLB), a faster video bus that preceded the Accelerated Graphics Port, better known as AGP. VESA technology is now legacy and the AGP port has been replaced by Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI Express), also referred to as PCIe.

LCD monitor.
LCD monitor.

Soon after this standard was defined, a higher one followed supporting a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 8-bit pixels, versus the 4-bit pixels of original. Four-bits to each pixel meant the pixel could support one of 16 colors, referred to as 16-bit color. The 1024 x 768 flavor could support 32 colors, or 32-bit color. This advancement continued quickly until defining the number of colors became unnecessary. The SVGA graphics card interface allowed any compatible monitor to use voltage to effect color depth, theoretically displaying an infinite amount of colors.

Both VGA and SVGA were designed with CRT monitors in mind.
Both VGA and SVGA were designed with CRT monitors in mind.

While there are many standards that have followed, all since 1990 fall under the general heading of SVGA. This includes IMBs eXtended Graphics Array (XGA), Super XGA (SXGA), SXGA+, Ultra XGA (UXGA) and Quad XGA (QXGA). What differentiates these is successively higher resolutions.

When a “W” appears in front of a standard, such as “WXGA,” it refers to the wide-screen version of that standard. W-standards are designed for monitors with a movie-screen-like 16:9 aspect ratio, versus the standard “square” 4:3 aspect ratio of conventional monitors.

All SVGA monitors support the original standard and higher resolutions as well. LCD monitors look best at a single, native resolution specific to the model, so graphics cards and LCDs should be mated accordingly. Cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors can nicely support an array of resolutions.

Discussion Comments


I was aware that 800 X 600 was usually the standard pixel ratio for pictures, but I didn't realize there was an actual term for it, or that there was so much background to making that resolution.

I mean, who would have thought that an entire industry sector could revolve around something that most people don't even think about?

I guess this gives me a new respect for my techie cousin; he knows all about things like this.


Very practical and easy to understand the most of the vital information. Nice presentation. thanks

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    • SVGA Monitor cable.
      By: Marek Kosmal
      SVGA Monitor cable.
    • LCD monitor.
      LCD monitor.
    • Both VGA and SVGA were designed with CRT monitors in mind.
      By: Vasiliy Timofeev
      Both VGA and SVGA were designed with CRT monitors in mind.