Silicon Graphics timeline

Silicon Graphics News
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Thanks to John West at InsideHPC for drafting up this great Silicon Graphics timeline.

He seems to have captured most of the defining moments in the company’s history. What strikes me the most is how similar many people’s introduction to the company has been – through their workstations.

Anyone who claims that desktop workstations which run the same OS as your servers – or that giving the hobbyist community access to these workstations cheaply – won’t benefit your bottom line down the road needs to pay attention to this.

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

Looking for IRIX or Solaris expertise? Visit my UNIX Consultancy website.

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.


Breathing new life into those old Silicon Graphics machines

Looking for IRIX or Solaris expertise? Visit my UNIX Consultancy website.

Silicon Graphics have always made great workstations. I’m not just talking about brutal 3D monsters that could apply video feeds as textures in real time (over a decade ago). The machines are responsive and balanced, and this makes them perfect for general desktop use.

My Octane can’t be bogged down no matter what I throw at it, and since I upgraded to a Fuel I’ve found it almost impossible to overwhelm it. Annoyingly, too, as it means when I’m on the road and using my Macbook, I’m constantly frustrated by a gutless machine with a glitzy UI that gets in the way and slows things down.

With IRIX officially dead, the Open Source community is the only place any sort of IRIX-related development is happening. The crew over at Nekochan have developed Nekoware, an entire distribution of Open Source apps ported to IRIX, tuned and optimised for MIPS.

More power to the IRIX desktop, then. However, exciting changes are afoot, and it bodes well for older machines. Maybe it’s my UNIX background, but I don’t subscribe to the whole upgrade, upgrade, upgrade cycle that seems to define the PC industry. About 75% of all my work is done on kit that’s at over 5 years old. And I’m not talking scripting or coding, I’m talking web development, writing white papers and proposals, creating presentations, managing websites – all the baggage that goes along with running your own business.

What does cloud computing mean to you? With Microsoft’s recent talk about Windows 7 and a cloud version of Office, along with Google Apps, what do you actually need to have a productive and up-to-date desktop system, that can share files and data with anyone?

Turns out, it’s just a web browser. And what better platform to run a browser than the one used to serve out that first version of Netscape Navigator – IRIX.

So if you have an old Silicon Graphics machine – or you’ve got the chance to acquire one – grab the latest Nekoware release, and start playing with all those cool apps in the cloud. If we’re all going to have terminals again, well – they can be powerful and stylish ones.

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IRIX Security

Silicon Graphics FAQs
Looking for IRIX or Solaris expertise? Visit my UNIX Consultancy website.


In an effort to solve the many security FAQs which pop up, I’ve written a security HOWTO for IRIX. It contains step by step instructions on how to secure your 6.5 system.

The current version is 0.1, and it can be viewed here: irix_security_howto_0.1.pdf PDF icon

Please send any questions or feedback.



SGI provides security patches, as well as recommended/required patch sets, for free.
For some of the patches, you’ll need a Supportfolio username and password to download them – you can apply for one here.


Other Security Resources

  • CERT – the Computer Emergency Response Team co-ordinates reports of vulnerabilities, and has a fairly comprehensive list of vulnerabilities, plus information on vendor-supplied fixes (and where to get them from)

  • SANS – the SANS Institute was founded in 1989 as a co-operative research and education organisation. It’s one of the premier computer security organisations – lots of helpful information here.

  • SecurityFocus has grown out of the BugTraq mailing list – it contains archives of vulnerabilities, archives of security related mailing lists, exploits, discussions – the works. You should subscribe to the BugTraq mailing list – it’s well worth it.

  • If you have one of the newer SGI Visual Workstations, running Windows, then you should also subscribe to the NTBugTraq mailing list

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IRIX Software

IRIX Software
Looking for IRIX or Solaris expertise? Visit my UNIX Consultancy website.

The Nekochan community has been working hard porting the latest versions of popular and useful Open Source software to IRIX. They’ve come up with a distribution called Nekoware, and this is an essential software collection to get the most from your Silicon Graphics machine.

The Nekoware builds require IRIX 6.5 and are well thought out and structured, with the dependencies all taken care of.

You can download them from Stop by the forums there and give them props for such fantastic work!

SGI has a large range of free or evaluation software available for download. It can be found at

SGI also ships CDs with pre-compiled freeware with new systems. These freeware packages are regularly updated, and are freely available for download. They are tardist files, and so can be downloaded and installed with just one click.

The URL for SGI’s freeware site is

One word of warning – the freeware packages have been compiled with SGI’s compiler. This means if you’re using GCC, you may run into problems.

For example, if you have downloaded the perl freeware package, and then try and compile some perl modules using gcc, it will fail – perl will have been compiled using the SGI compiler, and will expect the same for the modules.

In these cases, you will need to remove the freeware packages, and compile the app from source.

It’s also worth noting that there is a bug in recent versions of GCC, which appears in IRIX 6.2 and early versions of 6.5. Any program compiled with GCC that uses IP (for example, Apache or OpenSSH) will show all remote IPs as being This isn’t too helpful. At the moment, it seems that GCC 2.7.2 was the last version that didn’t have problems with IRIX 6.2 – I would recommend installing this as your compiler. Recent versions of GCC 3 play nicely with IRIX 6.5.

SGI’s Software Products page can be found at – it has links and details for SGI’s commercial software.

Other Software Links

  • Blender is an excellent freeware 3D modelling software package. It is also available commercially. The URL for the homepage is

  • Douglas Scott has an excellent page of Audio and Music applications for SGI systems, originally at

    I’ve setup a local mirror.

  • Bill Henderson maintains a page of links to all sorts of Public Domain software, originally at

    Please email me if you know where a copy of this now lives.

  • Greg Lukomski maintains the excellent Unofficial Lightwave SGI Resource Guide at

  • SiliconBunny’s local mirrors have copies of some of the more popular software available – notably the various versions of Quake.


When you’ve had enough in the office, or need a bit of light entertainment at home, have some fun with these:

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