A method and apparatus for controlling the display of graphics data, in which the data are compressed for dense storage in a graphics memory. The densely packed data can be asynchronously read from the memory and reformatted into a format suitable for driving a conventional display device. The memory comprises an array of memory locations, each location having capacity to store a first number of bits. The apparatus includes a graphics controller capable of densely packing compressed data words into the memory locations, where each compressed word comprises a second number of bits corresponding to a pixel. The graphics controller can densely pack the compressed words in the sense that it can write both a first word and a first portion of a second word into one memory location, and a second portion of the second word (with at least a portion of a third word) in a second memory location. In preferred embodiments, the apparatus of the invention receives 32-bit video data (with corresponding host addresses) and compresses each 32-bit word into a 24-bit pixel for dense packing in a video memory having 32-bit memory locations.