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Reliving The Glory Days of SGI 386

Posted by Hemos
from the could-they-return dept.
devin15 writes "Remember in the '90's when the tech boom was in full swing and SGI was the darling of the 3D graphics industry, whatever happened to those days? Wired is running an article about a group for whom the glory days of SGI have not yet gone. From the article:" If the Mac community is dwarfed by the Microsoft horde, the number of SGI users amounts to a rounding error.""
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Reliving The Glory Days of SGI

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  • Great styling. (Score:5, Informative)

    by deletedaccount (835797) on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:43AM (#11072057)
    The best thing about SG workstations was(is) that they came in funky blue or green boxes rather than beige. And this was years before Apple caught onto the idea and applied it to the iMac.
    Oh, they were pretty good at their job, but perhaps that's just a coincidence.
  • Interesting (Score:5, Informative)

    by shlomo (594012) on Monday December 13, 2004 @10:48AM (#11072093)
    I was at a confernce in orlando last week, and there was a parallel conference which seemed to be mostly military simulation stuff, they seemed to be pretty strong there. Guess they moved to the more lucrative stuff.
  • sgi glory... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:00AM (#11072180) Homepage
    I remember when @home went belly up. the headend was packing up the SGI servers that @home had there and I pulled the SGI case badge off of one of them.

    I still get funny questions from friends that notice it on my antec case at home and is the best looking company/equipment logo I have ever seen.

    I always wanted an Octane, but they are still going for insane prices on ebay, and today it really is not worth tinkering with anymore.
  • by jandrese (485) * <> on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:14AM (#11072297) Homepage Journal
    Why not just download them from []? Supportfolio accounts are free and provide access to OS updates. The latest version is...(checks account)...6.5.26. Since you already have the 6.5 CDs you can just install 6.5.0 and then using inst or swmgr to upgrade to 6.5.26. The harest problem I've run into is running out of drive space during the upgrade (SGI likes to stick tiny OS disks on their machines--especially those old ones).

    inst (and its X frontend swmgr) are among the best software installation managers I've ever used. swmgr is pretty intuitive. It's certainly a whole lot easier to use than RPM (try asking an rpm newbie how to find what package installed what file, or where a package is going to put its files for instance).
  • by (771696) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:15AM (#11072300)
    I was working in a simulation firm when the times shifted for SGI. We had some SGI RE2's that cost us about 200k £, expencive stuff in other words. My boss gave me an assignment in 1996 to find a graphics card for PC's that we could run our simulator on, and I heard rumour about a company with ex SGI guys that had started to make graphics cards for the PC market. I got the stats for a new SLI card they had made, and was asoniced of what they had in fillrates and such. My co-workers frowned at the stats thinking it was a hoax, but I convinced my boss on a gut feeling to buy the 2k £ card. We actually got a bundle deal with a company called OpenGVS that made 3D API, so it was a good deal. The card lived up to our expectations. When talking to SGI at several occations I got a taste of their arroganse when it came to the PC graphics boards, they rightfully claimed that it was no match for their super-computers, since it was missing FSAA, AF. Still I was getting the idea that their machines were very overpriced, they were in 1996 selling desktops like the Indigo2 for 20k £ and these DID NOT EVEN HAVE TEXTURING ! Now we have PC cards that have FSAA and AF with higher resolutions for a fraction of the price. PC's are so cheap that simulator companes now use one PC per projector, where a SGI have to split its screen into one area for each projector. No wonder they failed to keep the market, they will have to blame themselfs for their arrogance.
  • Jurassic Park (Score:5, Informative)

    by myusername (597009) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:22AM (#11072367)
    Don't forget SGI's big moment in Jurassic Park!

    "This is a Unix system. I know this." - Lex. ilm/JPark/ []

  • Re:I miss SGI (Score:3, Informative)

    by CarrionBird (589738) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:27AM (#11072424) Journal
    AFIAK the way around that problem is to stick in a drive with a working IRIX install, and run a utility as root that would reset that PROM password.

    I have a similar problem, a working Indigo (1) that I don't know the password for the OS or the PROM. The only thing I can think of is to slap a SCSI card in my PC and compile SGI filesystem support into a kernel. Then I could rewrie the passwd file. A lot of work for an old system.

  • by gelfling (6534) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:34AM (#11072479) Homepage Journal
    An SGI workstation is about equal to the graphics power of a PS2. SGI learned the hard way that if you need to ride the crest of Moore's law then you need massively large capital investment to do it. Niche 'power' workstations is a dead business.
  • Re:I miss SGI (Score:5, Informative)

    by RageEX (624517) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:40AM (#11072534)
    > Of course, the machine (well, IRIX) promptly killed itself,

    Most likely user error.

    > and nobody knew the equivalent of the BIOS

    SGI's have a PROM, it's pretty slick.

    > password to allow reinstallation

    Most SGIs have a jumper to reset the PROM password. It's a FAQ that should take 10 seconds to figure out. It's also in the user manual which if you don't have you can download off of You could also have posted on any of the comp.sys.sgi groups and after people flame you for asking a FAQ someone would tell you what to do.

    > from the IRIX CDs and bootable SCSI CD-ROM
    > drive we'd spent weeks hunting down.

    I've never had a SCSI CD-ROM that wouldn't boot IRIX. Any Toshiba drive will work.

    > There turned out to be no way of resetting
    > that password, at least not without wiping
    > the MAC address too. Given that the machine
    > was only useful as an X terminal and web
    > browsing machine, it didn't seem worth doing.

    Sad indeed because all you needed to do was set a jumper.

    This is one of the reasons I don't listen to most people's opinions unless it's pretty clear they're experts. It makes more sense to figure it our yourself. Too many times I hear people have immense difficulty or distaste for something and the reason is because they don't know what they're doing. Kinda like the people in infomercials who can't chop an onion or coil up a garden hose or rake leaves.

    Or maybe it's more like a Ferrari. Lottery winners will abuse their high performance cars and then complain when something goes wrong ("stupid imported piece of junk!"). In fact this is so common many long-time Ferrari owner's have a name for these type of people: gold-chainers.

    To be sure SGI systems have their quirks but most of the negative things you hear about them are not true. I'd encourage people to pick one up and see for themselves but then I don't want to drive up prices ;)
  • Re:IRIS Workstation (Score:4, Informative)

    by Pope (17780) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:50AM (#11072613)
    Sadly, some business guy tried to turn SGI into a PC company,

    He did the same thing at HP and/or DEC, and later went on to a nice high executive position at Microsoft. Coincidence? I think not!

  • by Cutting_Crew (708624) on Monday December 13, 2004 @11:59AM (#11072679)
    well i didnt mean to say that clusters are the answer to everything b/c clusters are even now in their infant stages. i do have some experience and am not biased. i have found that a LOT of shops that once used to be an SGI only shop are the ones that do intense state of the art graphics programming, such as supercomputing centers doing openGL applications, this included gov't and private sectors and businesses. they have , most of them swapped to an only Linux/Windows shop b/c its cheaper, in most cases faster, easier to maintain(who graduates from college these days in computer science with a knowledge of and SGI or SUN computer?) and their systems are always up to date using the latest technologies. cluster technology will continue to grow and mature -- i dare say faster than SGI can keep up with. yes there are still needs for SGI but like a post below said -- theres really nothing about SGI that blows away the competition anymore.
  • Re:I miss SGI (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ford Prefect (8777) on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:01PM (#11072694) Homepage
    Most SGIs have a jumper to reset the PROM password. It's a FAQ that should take 10 seconds to figure out.

    Done a quick bit of research - it would appear it was an Indigo, not an Indigo 2 - one of the few machines without the jumper.

    And yes, I did download the user manual, ask on the SGI newsgroups, and I even consulted the university's SGI administrator for his advice. The general response? Get IRIX booting in order to run the appropriate password-reset utility, or the machine is unusable.

    So, we borrowed a friend's Indy and managed to mount the Indigo's hard disk on that, cleared out /tmp and reset the root password in /etc/passwd, but the machine still wouldn't boot. IRIX was dead, and while it might have been possible to fix it up enough to boot, or to find another working Indigo's hard disk and borrow that, it didn't really seem the effort.

    This is one of the reasons I don't listen to most people's opinions unless it's pretty clear they're experts. It makes more sense to figure it our yourself. Too many times I hear people have immense difficulty or distaste for something and the reason is because they don't know what they're doing.

    Well, perhaps you ought to redirect your criticisms elsewhere...
  • Military Simulation (Score:5, Informative)

    by JWhitlock (201845) <> on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:08PM (#11072744)
    I was at a confernce in orlando last week, and there was a parallel conference which seemed to be mostly military simulation stuff, they seemed to be pretty strong there. Guess they moved to the more lucrative stuff.

    That was probably the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference. []

    I wouldn't look to military simultion for an example of a growth area. Some of the simulators are as old as the planes themselves, 30 years and older, with upgrades every three to five years to keep them up to date. FORTRAN is still the universal language, or at least the F77 dialect. C is starting to take over, but slowly, and Ada still has a sizable presence. In general, technologies and practices lag five to ten years behind the rest of the commerical world.

    On the other hand, it is fairly secure work if you can get it. Lots of people can start in simulation and retire in it, which isn't true of a lot of industries. If you can get a security clearance, you are in even better shape.

    So, don't worry about international outsourcing - just become a military contractor!

  • by saha (615847) on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:08PM (#11072745)
    This is very true. Macs are very good for many tasks, but they are weak when it comes to advanced 3D visualization because of lack of high end gfx cards from vendors (I speculate no thanks to the ADC connector which added futher complexity for manufacturing for the small Apple market), which results in lack of 3D visualization software in this field. A month ago I recommended several platforms to an assoc. professor at IIT India looking to set up a virtual reality lab. My suggestions were SGI, Windows, Linux (Macs where not an option). The fact is that Apple doesn't have any of the top end gfx cards from Nvidia, ATI nor 3DLabs with genlock/framelock capabilities causes ISV not to develop for the OS X platform. I haven't found any V.R. software for the Mac OSX like VR Juggler, EON Reality ... etc yet. I did email Steve Cox at 3D Labs for the possiblity of having a Wildcat Realizm card for the Apple platform and been asking TGS about their OpenInventor and Amira 3D software for OS X.

    Heck, I use a Powerbook G4 for most of my tasks these days and my SGI O2 and SGI 320 NT box in my office are used little these days, but the Macs do lack some advanced hardware features that are only available on Infinite Reality gfx boards and Tezro v12. See Discreet's website and you'll notice that Flame, Inferno and Fire still run on ONLY SGI hardware. SGI InfiniteReality boards are used as image generators for flight military flight simulators and also to drive the Inferno compositing and film mastering, using up to 32 film resolution layers and 10-bit anti-aliased graphics

    Sure, Nvidia and ATI cards go have an polygon count advantage and they do have features like pixel and vertex shaders, but overall for high fidelity graphics one still goes back to SGIs. If one looks at what is capable in Final Cut Pro HD, it still falls in terms of output quality compared to what an SGI can handle. For video DMediaPro options with support for two streams of high-definition 10-bit 4:4:4:4 RGBA video. Or if one needed to generate your own video signal. Programmable FPGA video card or drive a C.A.V.E. or Powerwall SGI Mutichannel Option cards are capable of doing this. I have yet to see PC based Image Generator be as successful at doing this without a lot of hacking, blood, sweat and tears. SGI's handle the tough visualization tasks do out of the box. SGI's gfx API are second to none

    OpenGL Inventor

    OpenGL Multipipe (+ SDK)

    OpenGL Optimizer

    OpenGL Performer

    OpenGL Shader

    OpenGL Vizserver

    OpenGL Volumizer

    ImageVision and Image Format Library (IFL)

    SGI was a great company, although it was badly mismanaged. I'd love to see it merged with Apple and all the SGI gfx API's integrated into OS X. Plus other tecnologies like ccNUMA, XFS, CXFS, NUMAlink4 (6.4GBs), NUMAflex combined with Hypertransport and Infiniband (when customers need cheaper solution than NUMAlink)

  • Re:I miss SGI (Score:3, Informative)

    by RageEX (624517) on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:22PM (#11072851)
    Indeed the Indigo is much trickier to reset the PROM password. What you have to do then is remove the graphics and CPU board to get to the backplane and you can ground one pin on the EEPROM. As you can imagine it requires alot of care.
  • Many, many acorns... (Score:2, Informative)

    by burnttoy (754394) on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:25PM (#11072875) Homepage Journal
    Although not actually Acorn.

    SGI helped grow (accidently - probably by being too short termist) MANY graphics firms. 3dfx had a good number of ex-SGI staff, nVidia has oodles of them, some are at MS working on D3D (when SGI dropped the ball on OpenGL - it didn't keep up the the HW), 3DLabs has a couple but 3DLabs was always a competitor of SGI (and 6000 miles away!). Most famously is ArtX who I _think_ did the GPU for the Gamecube but are now wholey owned by ATi. Many of the ArtX team had worked on the RIP in the N64 then split away as SGI seemed to drop the ball on that one too.

    There's probably more than that. Sorry to be so down on SGI but they REALLY let things go badly wrong....
  • by chewy_fruit_loop (320844) on Monday December 13, 2004 @12:50PM (#11073082) Homepage
    Ian has been doing this type of SGI work for 10+ years now.
    When I was a University he was the SGI tech, and basical did SGI a truck load of grafting for nothing. They even ofered him a job in California (I suppose that beats Preston hands down).
    He has been in contact with lots of people down the years, sys admins at NASA, people in the US DOD, who wouldn't / couldn't tell him what they did. He generaly became the guy to go to when you had an SGI related problem.
    Its generaly a shame he's been craped on by his employers University of Central Lancashire [] and Salford University []
  • by ari_j (90255) on Monday December 13, 2004 @01:19PM (#11073330)
    I had an Indigo2 get remote-rooted once. Oops. Then we had an Indy in the ACM office for a while. The President and I decided on a root password that, within 2 days, neither of us could remember. It took me nearly 50 seconds to root it without a compiler or network connection, and 30 seconds of that was spent waiting for the guy at the winterm next to me to let me Google for hints.

    Keep it behind a firewall and you'll be fine. The Indy is a nice little box and lots of fun. I suggest keeping Irix on it, as half of the SGI experience is running Irix. I don't get people who buy every esoteric piece of hardware they can find and run the same OS on it as they do on their PC.
  • by yardgnome (190624) on Monday December 13, 2004 @01:26PM (#11073397) Homepage
    Upon re-reading my comment, I think I was a little harsh on SGI's support. We've always gotten what we asked for. Sometimes is was a little late in coming. And sometimes we wondered why we even needed to ask (e.g. DVD-ROM support in mid-2004). And sometimes it's taken a lot of back-and-forth to really get a solution. But, in their favor, SGI has always been decent about supporting their platform. They just can't keep up with an army of talented volunteer pros and hobbyists.
  • by psergiu (67614) on Monday December 13, 2004 @02:07PM (#11073784)
    > something as simple as printer usage was a PITA.

    They should have used Impressario. Printing & Scanning made easy - only from SGI :)
  • Re:sgi glory... (Score:2, Informative)

    by RageEX (624517) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:09PM (#11074485)
    O2s, though much slower than Octanes, seem to still be a bit pricey. Probably because O2s with AV cards can capture, compress, and output video. They can also do SDI with a dongle and there's a great little webcam too.

    I got my O2 for $350 + $50 shipping. It came with IRIX and MIPSpro compilers installed. A 9GB disk, the AV card (I use it like a TiVo), the fastest CPU SGI offered in the O2 (R12K @ 400MHz 2MB L2) and 256MB RAM (which I want to upgrade to 1GB), and a FireWire card. So it's close to a maximum configuration.

    You can get a good O2 for around $200 on eBay and tehy're lots of fun. Definitely check them out!
  • Re:SGI not gone yet (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ohreally_factor (593551) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:12PM (#11074511) Journal
    I don't think you know the difference between editing [] and compositing for vfx (which is what inferno does).

    Avid is still the standard editor in Hollywood, although FCP [] has been making major inroads.
  • by WhiteDragon (4556) on Monday December 13, 2004 @03:14PM (#11074534) Homepage Journal
    The US Postal Service has thousands of SGI O200 and 1100 computers in use as backend processors for image recognition. Any time you send a letter, an image of the mail piece is sent to a system with racks of them, to be recognized on custom software from Lockheed-Martin. The O200s are actually not bad computers, they have a lot of ram and fast scsi drives, and quad Mips processors running between 200 and 400 Mhz, although parts for them are fantastically expensive. Of course they are running IRIX. The 1100s are just 1U rackmount dual proc Pentium IIIs running linux. One of the main reasons IRIX was used was the availability of an OSI networking stack, which is used to communicate to some of the ancient-but-still-working-well sorting machines. The strange thing about all this is that I am usually the first one to evangelize the networking abilities of Linux, but I've never seen an OSI stack for it.

A Fortran compiler is the hobgoblin of little minis.