SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

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Irinikus
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SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by Irinikus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:26 am

GRudolf94 wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:16 am
The VW are the bastard children, but hey, surprise guts in what should be empty cases is always nice!
I don't know much about the 330 or the 550, but the 320 and the 540, although they made use of x86 processors, were in fact true SGI machines.

They featured the Cobalt graphics chip and a unified memory architecture similar to that of the O2, so in a way, the 320 was the "direct descendent" of the O2.

The unified memory architecture gave these machines a huge advantage over the PC's of the day when it came to their available texture memory and this helped when it came to the manipulation of large images.

The 320 and the 540 were in-fact really cool machines and their failure rested mainly in the fact that SGI didn't deliver followup models as they had promised, and this lead to a further loss of confidence in SGI's strategy at the time.

If I have to compare my 320's performance to that of the PC of the day back in 1999, the 320 would blow the PC away.
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GRudolf94
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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by GRudolf94 » Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:14 pm

Irinikus wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:26 am


I don't know much about the 330 or the 550, but the 320 and the 540, although they made use of x86 processors, were in fact true SGI machines.
...
If I have to compare my 320's performance to that of the PC of the day back in 1999, the 320 would blow the PC away.
330 and 550 are regular PCs, using standard PC BIOS on a regular-ish board and with regular nVidia graphics. They just look good, but will perform as you'd expect any other Pentium 3/Xeon workstation of the era to
:Indigo2: R10k@195MHz/64MB RAM/XZ/ATX PSU conversion in the works/acting up
:Indy: R4600@133MHz/128MB RAM/XL-24/Gruesomely plasti-welded together
:Octane: R10k@225MHz/1536MB RAM/SSI

SGI Ultra64...erm, Nintendo64 console :D

and lotsa non-SGI stuff

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Irinikus
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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by Irinikus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:26 pm

GRudolf94 wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:14 pm
330 and 550 are regular PCs, using standard PC BIOS on a regular-ish board and with regular nVidia graphics. They just look good, but will perform as you'd expect any other Pentium 3/Xeon workstation of the era to
I just wanted to clarify that the initial idea of the x86-based Visual Workstation, wasn't such a bad idea, but a poor marketing strategy and the lack of followup systems for the 320 and 540 screwed it all up for them!

It's sad to think that they went from developing huge graphics systems like Infinite Reality to this! This seems to be a recurring pattern in business though! :(
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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by GRudolf94 » Tue Jul 03, 2018 10:20 pm

It's not a recurring pattern, not in the sense you'd normally think. Check out who was HP CEO in the late 90s, cannibalized their indigenous high-end solutions in favor of bland x86 or IA-64 crap, and then went on to become SGI's CEO, making SGI go down the same route and collapse into the pile of crap it became.

It is a pattern alright, but one induced by bad management due to a school of thought and, in these two cases, by a same individual.

(Edit: to be honest though, SGI's first attempt at a poke in the x86 market with the Visual Workstations was before that, but they gave up on MIPS due to this very same idea: PC stuff is cheaper, so let's make PC stuff)
:Indigo2: R10k@195MHz/64MB RAM/XZ/ATX PSU conversion in the works/acting up
:Indy: R4600@133MHz/128MB RAM/XL-24/Gruesomely plasti-welded together
:Octane: R10k@225MHz/1536MB RAM/SSI

SGI Ultra64...erm, Nintendo64 console :D

and lotsa non-SGI stuff

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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by Irinikus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:04 pm

What I meant by recurring pattern, is that in a capitalist world, you continually see companies rise and fall. Look at Cray, SUN, digital, etc...

SGI unfortunately just made the wrong call here by dropping MIPS, as if they had gone ahead and continued with MIPS and the Itanium had delivered as intel had promised, they would have been screwed! (R&D costs a fortune, and if your product is a failure, you’re in trouble!)

HP made exactly the same mistake with Alpha. (Dropped it due to the upcoming Itanium chip from intel, but off the top of my head, I don't know if it was the same idiot CEO who made the call though!)

As far as I'm concerned, the Itanium was a strategy by intel to rid itself of competition from RISK chip's. (Who ended up by buying the rights to Alpha, none other than intel!)
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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by GL1zdA » Wed Jul 04, 2018 3:30 am

I wouldn't say it would blow away a comparable PC. The CPUs would both be the same, the Intel i840 chipset would match Cobalts memory bandwidth, the ServerWorks ServerSet III HE with 4 MADPs would even outperform it, but it was only used for servers (both came to the market several months after the VWs were released). It would be great for tasks demanding lots of texture memory and lots of I/O bandwidth (video), but these were niche. At that time workstation performance was rising quickly and it would be hard for SGI to catchup given high R&D costs and low sales, so a year later the VWs had no advantego over PC workstations.

The only way for SGI workstations to survive would be to commoditize them, but this was not what SGI wanted to do. And when ELSA helped nVidia releasing OpenGL drivers for the TNT2/GeForce cards, it was the final call for all the high-end graphics manufacturers. Unfortunately they did nothing.

The newer VWs (230, 330, 550) look sweet, but there was not enough added value compared to other PC workstations.

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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by pauliedweasel » Sun Aug 12, 2018 3:30 am

Irinikus wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 11:26 am
GRudolf94 wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:16 am
The VW are the bastard children, but hey, surprise guts in what should be empty cases is always nice!
I don't know much about the 330 or the 550, but the 320 and the 540, although they made use of x86 processors, were in fact true SGI machines.

They featured the Cobalt graphics chip and a unified memory architecture similar to that of the O2, so in a way, the 320 was the "direct descendent" of the O2.

The unified memory architecture gave these machines a huge advantage over the PC's of the day when it came to their available texture memory and this helped when it came to the manipulation of large images.

The 320 and the 540 were in-fact really cool machines and their failure rested mainly in the fact that SGI didn't deliver followup models as they had promised, and this lead to a further loss of confidence in SGI's strategy at the time.

If I have to compare my 320's performance to that of the PC of the day back in 1999, the 320 would blow the PC away.
Plus, the 320/540 booted from a PROM like the IRIX workstations did. It was cool to watch.

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PA8600
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Re: SGI 320 and 540 Visual Workstations

Post by PA8600 » Wed Aug 15, 2018 4:09 pm

I own one, I'll upload the driver files when I can finally dig it out, they're likely on an external HDD somewhere as well possibly.
HP: C3000, B2600, 425T, RX2620, ZX6000, Vectra VA, Omnibook 800CT
SGI: :O2: R10k (dead), :Octane: R12k 300mhz, :320:
IBM: RS/6000 43p, Intellistation Power 275, P5 505, Thinkpad 380D, 390
Sun: Ultra 45, Blade 2500, Blade 150, SS IPC (bad psu)

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