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.

Twister

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 http://www.bftr.com/Pages/projects/twister.html

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.

Congo

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 http://www.jumboprawn.net/jesse/projs/laptop.html

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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Indigo2 Model Summary

Silicon Graphics FAQs
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teal Silicon Graphics Indigo2 R4600purple Silicon Graphics Indigo2 R10k

Until the introduction of the Octane, the Indigo 2 was SGI’s top end workstation. However, performance is still excellent and it still makes a very fast and useable workstation. Recently, prices have been plummeting, and an R10000 MaxImpact Indigo 2 represents superb value for money.

There are two different variants of the Indigo 2 – one with a green (called teal) case, and one with a purple case. RAM, CPU types, and graphics options available vary between the two.

CPU Options
CPU Type Speed (mhz) Secondary Cache Size
R4400SC 150 1MB
R4400SC 200 1MB
R4400SC 250 2MB
R10000SC 175 1MB
R10000SC 195 1MB

There are other CPU options, mostly the older R4000 and R4600 processors, which have the same specification as those available to the Indy. More can be found here.

You can upgrade an R4400 Indigo 2 to an R10000 processor. You will need a new motherboard, new powersupply, new processor module (duh! :-) and you may also need to replace the expansion backplane. However, it would probably work out cheaper to just sell your old machine and buy a newer one.

RAM:

R4400 based Indigo 2 machines have 12 SIMM slots, giving 3 banks of 4 slots. They can take 4mb, 8mb, 16mb or 32mb 72pin parity SIMMs, giving a total of 384mb.

R10000 based Indigo 2 machines also have 12 SIMM slots, with 3 banks of 4 slots. They can take all the above SIMM sizes (again, 72pin parity) but can also take 64mb SIMMs, giving a total of 768mb RAM.

It appears it is possible to squeeze in 1GB RAM into late model R10k machines – Ian’s site has the info here.

Graphics options:

This is the tricky one :-) The Indigo 2 has a wealth of different graphics options, and two different expansion backplanes that support different options.

The earlier, green (called Teal) cased Indigo 2 has the following options:

  • 24bit XL – no hardware acceleration, basically a 2D card

  • 24bit XZ – 2 geometry engines, hardware Z buffers

  • 24bit EX (Extreme Graphics) – 8 geometry engines, hardware Z buffers

Later Teal Indigo 2s had an upgraded XZ card with 4 GEs, although I’ve never seen one.

The later, purple cased Indigo 2 has the following options:

  • Solid Impact – 1 GE(1), 1 RE(2), no hardware texture mapping

  • High Impact – 1 GE, 1 RE, hardware texture mapping, 1MB or 4MB TRAM(3)

  • High Impact (High-AA)(4) – 2 GEs, 1 RE, hardware texture mapping, 1MB or 4MB TRAM

  • Max Impact – 2 GEs, 2 REs, hardware texture mapping, 1MB or 4MB TRAM


(1) GE – Geometry Engine
(2) RE – Raster Engine
(3) TRAM – Texture RAM
(4) The High-AA board is a bit rare, and I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere in SGI literature, but it’s basically a High Impact that carries out some operations at Max Impact speeds (most notably Anti-Aliasing, hence the AA)

Note that it’s possible to mix and match graphics boards to create a dual-head workstation. A Max-Impact/Solic Impact R10k is a truly splendid workstation :-)

If you want to upgrade a teal Indigo 2 to IMPACT graphics, you not only need to get the required board sets, but you will also need to replace the expansion backplane, and probably the power supply as well.

Ports:

  • External fast SCSI (2nd channel)

  • 2 Mac-compatible serial ports (RS422)

  • PS/2 keyboard and mouse

  • 10-BaseT or AUI ethernet

  • Audio I/O (microphone, headphone, line-in, etc.)

  • Bi-directional parallel port

  • 3 EISA slots, and 2 GIO-64 slots

Drives:

The Indigo 2 has a decent amount of space inside for various drive configurations. There is space for 2 3.5″ hard drives, an externally accessible 5.25″ slot for a CD drive, and an externally accessible 3.5″ full height slot, for either a Floptical drive, or a DAT drive.
The internal devices are connected to one SCSI channel, and the external devices are connected to another, so you can spread devices across 2 seperate channels to improve I/O performance if needed.

All 3.5" and 5.25" devices are mounting on custom SGI sleds. These sleds present a 50pin SCSI cable to the device, and have a custom 80pin connecter which plugs into the Indigo2 chassis – it looks like SCA.

The internal SCSI bus is SCSI-2 10mb/s. Any non-HVD drive will work in an Indigo2. If the drive doesn’t have a 50pin connector, who will need to buy and fit a converter. However, note that the combined depth of a hard drive + converter may be too much to fit on the sleds.

More information:

Owner’s Guides and Datasheets

The Owner’s Guide for the Indigo2 can be found on Techpubs, as can the Owner’s Guide for the Indigo2 Impact.

A local copy for the Indigo2 can be found here PDF icon, as well as for the Indigo2 Impact. PDF icon

A local copy of the Indigo2 Impact datasheet can be found here. PDF icon

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Challenge S Model Summary

Silicon Graphics FAQs
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Silicon Graphics SGI Challenge S

The Challenge S is SGI’s entry level server. It is essentially an Indy, with some key parts removed, and some added.

The Challenge S is designed to run as a headless server – as such, it has no ports for a keyboard, mouse, or video out. It also lacks the S-Video in and IndyCam in ports that the Indy has, and also has no sound.

The other main difference is that the primary ethernet port on the Challenge S is AUI – on the Indy it is 10-BaseT. This means that you’ll need to get an AUI transciever if you want to connect to a 10-BaseT or 10-Base2 network on the primary port. However, the Challenge S does come as standard with the Mezzanine SCSI board.

This is a single height GIO board, with 2 fast-wide-differential SCSI ports (providing 2 seperate channels) and a 10-BaseT ethernet port.

Serial port A is where you should plug in a serial terminal to administer the machine. This is deemed the ‘console’ port. I’ve used everything from wretched old VT100 terms, through console networks, to a Palm Pilot.

As it’s based on the Indy, upgrades are very easy. The Challenge S will take the same memory, hard drives, and CPU modules as an Indy. As it shares the same PROM, it could even be configure to have the console as a graphics card. There is room to fit one, even with the Mezzanine card fitted.

More information can be found on the Indy model summary page.

Summary:

  • Max. 256mb RAM, as in the Indy

  • No keyboard or mouse port

  • No graphics card, so no monitor

  • No Video input, and no sound

  • Mezzanine SCSI board, with twin SCSI channels and 1 10-BaseT port

  • Otherwise a standard Indy

Owner’s Guides

The Challenge S Owner’s Guide can be found on Techpubs.

A local copy can be found here. PDF icon

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Indy Model Summary

Silicon Graphics FAQs
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Silicon Graphics SGI Indy

Until the introduction of the O2, the Indy was SGI’s entry level workstation. It has an impressive range of features and ports, and remains a versatile machine.

CPU options
CPU type Speed (mhz) Secondary cache size
R4000PC 100
R4000SC 100 1MB
R4600PC 100
R4600PC 133
R4600SC 133 0.5MB
R4400SC 100 1MB
R4400SC 150 1MB
R4400SC 175 1MB
R4400SC 200 1MB
R5000PC 150
R5000SC 150 0.5MB
R5000SC 180 0.5MB

PC on a CPU module means Primary Cache (ie. only on-die cache). SC means Secondary Cache (ie. L2 cache on the module).

RAM:

The Indy has 8 slots, taking 72pin parity RAM. 4 SIMMS per bank, 2 banks total, giving a maximum of 265mb.
Memory can be either 4mb, 8mb, 16mb or 32mb, and must be the same size and speed within a bank.

Graphics:

Indy’s come with 3 main graphics options – 8bit XL, 24bit XL, and the XZ. The XL cards have decent 2D performance, but everything else is offloaded to the CPU. The XZ has some 3D acceleration (hardware Z buffer, geometry/lighting acceleration). However, it seems to be slower than the XL cards for 2D work.

Ports:

Lots of connectivity comes with the Indy as standard:

  • ISDN BRI port

  • PS/2 keyboard and mouse

  • 10-BaseT or AUI ethernet

  • External fast SCSI

  • S-Video in

  • Digital video in

  • IndyCAM

  • Sound (headphones, microphone, line-in, etc.)

  • Bi-directional printer port

  • 2 Mac-compatible serial ports

Drives:

The Indy has 2 internal 3.5 inch drive bays. These can either take the Floptical drive (SCSI drive that reads/writes normal floppies, and special 21mb ‘floptical’ disks) or normal hard drives.
If you want a CD or DAT drive, these can be connected via the external SCSI port – it is one SCSI channel though (unlike some other machines).

The internal SCSI connecters are 5mb/s SCSI-1. The cables for the hard drives are standard 50pin SCSI connectors. As SCSI as backwards compatible, any non-HVD drive will work. If the drive doesn’t have a 50pin connector, you will need to buy and install a converter.

Several people have reported success using IDE->SCSI converters, and installing IDE drives in their Indys.

More information:

Owner’s Guide

The Indy Owner’s Guide can be found on Techpubs.

A local copy can be downloaded from here. PDF icon

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Octane Model Summary

Silicon Graphics FAQs
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Silicon Graphics SGI Octane Octane2

The Octane was SGIs top-end workstation. It uses a similar architecture to the larger machines like Origin 2000 and Onyx 2 – multi-processor with a large bandwidth crossbar.

The Octane comes with a range of processor options, and is capable to taking 1 or 2 processors. The processors are held on daughter boards which attach to the Octanes motherboard. As such, you can’t buy a second CPU and plug it in – you need to ditch your existing CPU and replace it with a dual-CPU board. This accounts for the relative high price of dual CPU boards as opposed to single CPU boards on the second hand market.

There are two series of Octanes. Early machines used IMPACT graphics and are limited in the level of processor upgrades. Later models have VPRO graphics and their processor options are still being added to by SGI.

Even thought IMPACT graphics can be considered old in computing terms, you can’t make straight comparisons between (say) an R10k-195 Solid IMPACT Indigo 2 and an R10k-195 Octane SI. The enormous amount of I/O bandwidth available across Octanes crossbar, plus some neat tweaks in the implementation of IMPACT, mean that the Octane has significantly faster graphics. See Ian Mapleson’s performance stats for more in-depth comparison – in particular, his comparison of Indigo2 and Octane.

The IMPACT-based graphics options for Octane are as follows:

  • SI –

  • SE –

  • SSI –

  • SSE –

  • MXI –

All the ‘S’ cards (with no hardware texture support) can have TRAM boards added for instant hardware texture support. SI and SE can take one TRAM, SSI and SSE can take two. SSI and SSE with 2 TRAMS are equivalent to MXI.

 

Physically, the Octane is pretty large – almost square. Looking from the back, we have the motherboard on the left (mounted sideways – CPUs and DIMMs facing in towards the middle of the chassis.
In the middle-bottom of the chassis is the power supply – above that, the PCI card cage. Above that, at the middle-top of the chassis, are the drive bays – 3 3.5″ bays. Sorry, no internal CD-ROMs in Octane :-( But room for a couple of high speed SCA drives and a DAT drive.
The right hand side of the chassis is taken up by the 4 XIO slots. Throwing in multiple graphics cards will give you a dual-head machine. As long as you can get the cooling right, it should be possible to make a triple or quad head machine.

Storage

Octanes have 3 internal 3.5" drive bays. These provide SCA connectors and are a 40mb/s SCSI-2 bus. Drives need to be mounted on custom SGI sleds – these are the same as used in Origin 200s and 2000s.

Due to the depth of the sled and the space for the drive, you are unlikely to fit a hard drive + SCSI converter. Because of this you’ll only really be able to fit SCA drives internally in on Octane. However, as SCSI is backwards compatible, you can fit the latest 15k RPM LVD drives.

Owner’s Guide, Datasheets and Whitepapers

The Octane Owner’s Guide can be found on Techpubs.

There are also local copies of:

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