Adding a soundcard and GFX-1600SW to my Silicon Graphics Fuel

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The Fuel is Silicon Graphics’ last MIPS based entry level graphics workstation. Like it’s bigger brother the Tezro, it’s based around the updated innards of the Origin 3000 machines – in the same way the Octane used the same innards as the Origin 2000.

The family lineage goes like this:

Origin 3000 -> Origin 300 -> Tezro -> Fuel
Origin 2000 -> Origin 200 -> Octane

The advantage this gives the Fuel is much faster memory bus speeds, as well as multiple PCI channels and faster throughput to the graphics card. Unless you need multi-CPUs, you’ll find Fuel faster than Octane. Taking into account the cost of an Octane2 with a V10 board set, the Fuel represents a massive bargain right now.

SGI sold the Fuel with no sound card, providing extra cost options of either a PCI based card, or a USB sound system. This does actually make sense, if you think about Fuel’s target CAD and graphics markets – cut the cost of manufacturing by pulling out parts that aren’t used by the majority of the client base.

My current problem was two-fold:

  1. I want to get one of my 1600SW screens wired into my Fuel
  2. I want some sound on the Fuel as well

Silicon Graphics SGI Fuel

The Fuel ready for it’s upgrades

Solution to problem number one is to buy a Niktec GFX-1600SW. It takes up a single PCI slot for power (so no drivers needed) and converts DVI to OpenLDI. It’s a nice neat internal solution that’ll work on anything with a spare PCI slot.

Solution to problem number 2 is to purchase a Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS. This is supported natively under IRIX, and is much much cheaper than the other supported sound options for SGI gear.

Silicon Graphics SGI Fuel GFX-1600SW Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS

Ready for insertion – left to right:
SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS, GFX-1600SW, DVI->DVI cable

Total time to plug everything in was under 5 minutes – the Fuel is very very easy to get into.

Silicon Graphics SGI Fuel interior

Inside the Fuel. V10 boardset at the bottom.
Note the blue vent in the middle for cooling RAM and CPU

Silicon Graphics SGI Fuel sound upgrade

Everything in place. Note the DM10 firewire card

The only issue I faced was that I’d forgotten to reconfigure the X server before shutting down the machine. The configured resolution was 1900×1280, for the 24″ CRT I had plugged in before. This would clearly not work with the 1600SW.

The easiest option to this was to hit ESC once the Fuel had started booting, to drop into the graphical PROM menu. The default graphics settings appear to be 1024×768, and these can’t be changed, so no matter what you have plugged into a Silicon Graphics machine, you should always have something displayed during power on.

From the main PROM menu I entered the PROM monitor, then typed single and hit enter. This tells the machine to boot IRIX, but drop into single user mode. You just then need to enter the root password when prompted, and you have a root login in single user mode.

Reconfiguring the X server was then as straightforward as entering:

/usr/gfx/setmon 1600x1024_60

Answer No to whether or not you want this as the power on default. Remember, you can’t change that, and trying to will cause setmon to error out. Once setmon has done it’s magic, just type reboot, and wait for the machine to restart.

The graphical login window should pop up and you’ll be able to login to X with the new resolution fitting nicely on your 1600SW.

We can check the graphics board set configuration from the command line using the gfxinfo command:

valaraukar # /usr/gfx/gfxinfo 
Graphics board 0 is "ODYSSEY" graphics.
        Managed (":0.0") 1600x1024 
        BUZZ version B.1
        PB&J version 1
        32MB memory
                Banks: 2, CAS latency: 3
         Monitor 0 type: UFC 0
        Channel 0:
         Origin = (0,0)
         Video Output: 1600 pixels, 1024 lines, 60.00Hz (1600x1024_60)

Here’s the output from hinv after the hacking about:

valaraukar # uname -a
IRIX64 valaraukar 6.5 01090133 IP35
valaraukar # uname -R
6.5 6.5.29m
valaraukar # hinv
1 600 MHZ IP35 Processor
CPU: MIPS R14000 Processor Chip Revision: 2.3
FPU: MIPS R14010 Floating Point Chip Revision: 2.3
Main memory size: 1024 Mbytes
Instruction cache size: 32 Kbytes
Data cache size: 32 Kbytes
Secondary unified instruction/data cache size: 4 Mbytes
Integral SCSI controller 2: Version IEEE1394 SBP2
Integral SCSI controller 0: Version QL12160, low voltage differential
  Disk drive: unit 1 on SCSI controller 0
Integral SCSI controller 1: Version QL12160, single ended
  CDROM: unit 6 on SCSI controller 1
IOC3/IOC4 serial port: tty1
IOC3/IOC4 serial port: tty2
IOC3 parallel port: plp1
Graphics board: V10
Integral Fast Ethernet: ef0, version 1, module 001c01, pci 4
Iris Audio Processor: version EMU revision A4, number 1
DMediaPro DM10 FW option: unit 0, revision 1.1.0
USB controller: type OHCI

You can see the Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS card is recognised by the Iris Audio Processor driver – no messing around needed.

Again, none of this required any fiddling with drivers or messing around – you should be able to cheaply add sound to your Fuel in 10 minutes or less, and I picked up the Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS card for £19.


Deja Vu – Silicon Graphics to be delisted from NASDAQ

Silicon Graphics News
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Why do I get such a strong feeling of deja vu? Haven’t I seen headlines like this before? Wasn’t this all supposed to be behind SGI?

Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) (Nasdaq: SGIC) announced today that it received a notification letter from The Nasdaq Stock Market on December 2, 2008, indicating that, for 10 consecutive trading days preceding the date of the letter, the market value of the SGI’s listed securities had been below the minimum $35 million requirement for continued inclusion on The Nasdaq Stock Market pursuant to Nasdaq Marketplace Rule 4310(c)(3)(B) (the “Market Value of Listed Securities Requirement”).

You can read the full press release from SGI at

Personally I think the time is ripe for Silicon Graphics to take themselves private, and concentrate on R&D and doing what they do, well, without having to keep a corrupt and incompetent stock market happy.

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Silicon Graphics laptops

Funny Stuff, Hacks, Silicon Graphics FAQs
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There’s long been a rumour going round that the Silicon Graphics laptops in Twister were a real product, developed internally, and killed off without seeing the light of day. An SGI laptop is one of those recurring urban legends that everyone wishes was true. You could indeed get a Silicon Graphics laptop, but not in the way everyone thinks.


The laptops in Twister were fakes. They were mockups made by the special effects department, build around a Silicon Graphics Presenter display wired off-screen into an SGI Indy.

Twister SGI Silicon Graphics Indy laptop

You can read the full story of the effects in Twister on Banned From The Ranch’s website – have a look at

SGI product placement dictated that ALL of the computers in the film had to be SGIs, so we had the task of making not only two distinctly different sets of graphics for nearly every scene, but different-looking EQUIPMENT between the two teams. This was nowhere more evident than with the SGI “laptops,” which of course didn’t exist. With the tireless dedication and help of Dan Evanicky at SGI, we were able to design and build two different fake laptop shells around the SGI Corona LCD flatscreen displays, with seven functional and seven dummy cases for each design, we had a handful to take care of; each “laptop” had a powerful custom backlight run off a separate 12-volt DC power supply and multiple cables which ran back off the set (often through mud and puddles) to the Indy CPUs which fed them.


Silicon Graphics Indys were used throughout Congo. The TraviCom datacentre featured Indys on the desks – complete with Indycam – as well as the 17″ SGI granite CRTs embedded in the walls and littering the desks.

Congo SGI Silicon Graphics Indy laptop

There was also a mockup Indy laptop that was used in the field by Laura Linney’s character. Again, this was rigged up by the special effects team.

The O2 laptop

When the O2 was being designed and built, some of the team decided to build a laptop around the O2 parts. You can see some screenshots, pictures of the machine, and some background story on the project at

custom SGI Silicon Graphics O2 laptop

This was a one-off special build by the engineers working on the O2, and sadly never made it into production.

Military Indys

CRI are a company that build ruggedised military spec machines – essentially taking high performance Silicon Graphics kit, and giving it the full industrial makeover. At the moment they do rugged rack mounted Fuels, but back in the past they also created a rugged Indy laptop.

CRI ruggedized military SGI Silicon Graphics Indy laptop

The old product page has been archived – check out the LinC3D 75-FS Indy laptop.

They were all destined for military use, and doubtless will one day show up at government surplus auctions. Popular rumour has it that one has been up in the space shuttle to the ISS, and that they were also used in ships by the US Navy.

These were the only production SGI laptops made, and they weren’t even made by Silicon Graphics. Given the high price of the Tadpole SPARCbook machines in the 1990s, I shudder to think how much these would have cost. Damn cool though.

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FSN – the IRIX 3D file system tool from Jurassic Park

Funny Stuff, IRIX Software
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Films rarely depict computing accurately – largely because, let’s face it, sitting in front of a terminal hacking away is hardly the most exciting thing to watch. Back in Jurassic Park, when Lex was trying to hack into the computer system to get the power back online, she used a 3D file manager. Lots of people liked to cite this as a great example of how Hollywood just ‘didn’t get’ computers.

FSN 3D file system navigator Silicon Graphics SGI IRIX Jurassic Park

What most people fail to realise is that FSN, the File System Navigator, was an demo system tool from Silicon Graphics IRIX. You use to be able to download it direct from the (now sadly defunct) Serious Fun freeware pages on the Silicon Graphics website. Hey, this is Silicon Graphics we’re talking about – who else would make a 3D file browser in with their OS?

Gerhard Lenerz has some more information and some good screen grabs on his site at – I can recommend a good browse on there as he has some great SGI resources.

FSV, the File System Visualiser, is a re-creation of FSN for UNIX systems that have OpenGL. I can recommend grabbing it and having a play – it works under OS X for some truly silly fun.

Film appearances aside, FSN was an interesting approach to deal with ‘information overload’ and to use powerful computer graphics to provide a simpler interface to something complex (in this case, the IRIX filesystem).

If you want to play around with FSN under IRIX, you can grab the ELF version (for IRIX 5.3 and later) at – or you can grab a local copy from here.