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


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.


Silicon Graphics laptops

Funny Stuff, Hacks, Silicon Graphics FAQs

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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OK, it’s not big, and it’s not clever. Never mind, here’s a list of some of the hacks I’ve been responsible for.


The Octane KnightRider Light Bar

Right, remember KITT from Knight Rider? Back when David Hasslehoff was surrounded by a rather naff Pontiac Trans-Am instead of the silicon splendour of Bay Watch?

KITT was cool. And the coolest part about KITT was the moving LED bar he had on the bonnet. If you didn’t grow up with Knight Rider, think Cylons. If you didn’t grow up with Battlestar Galactica, then – to be honest – you were probably an abused child. Seek help.

Now, there are a couple of problems with the stock light bar on the Octane:

  1. It uses incandescant bulbs, which are more fragile than the XIO compression connectors
  2. It’s incredibly dull on such a cool machine

Greg Douglas, over at Reputable, sells some rather nice LED light bars. They’re cool, but the shipping costs of getting them to the UK ruled them out for me.

So, what to do?

With a bit of hunting, I found KnightLight’s web site. Now, if you can ignore the appalling image of tragic mullet heads fitting this stuff to their Vauxhall Novas, you can find a LED kit for a PC, at

Right, now, assume you have acquired one of these trinkets. Now, down to the hackery to get it fitted as the Octane’s light bar.

Remove the existing light bar

This is easy – they’ve got four ‘gripped’ tabs, a pair at either end. (See pictures below) Push them together and then pull it out towards you. Needs a bit of force, but easily done. You’ll notice there are four pins – these provide power.

Looking at the front of the Octane, the four sockets provide:

Pin 1 (left hand side) Pin 2 Pin 3 Pin 4 (right hand side)


(All-is-well normal bulbs)


(Testing, or "You broke me!" red bulb)



The LED bar will need a 5V supply, but after some extended testing (ie. none) I can conclude that it’s happy with a lower supply of 3.6V.

Attaching the LED bar

There are two ways to do this:

  1. The Proper Way – soldering wires and taking your time
  2. The Hack Way – bodge it a bit

Always remember – electricians tape is your friend.

Here’s what I did:

  • Cut off some wires from an old broken Sparc LX which had a similar sized connector on the end
  • Used a screw driver to lever open the pressed metal connectors inside the PC-style power connector
  • Jammed the wires inside the metal connectors, and then forced them shut again
  • Next, I cut a small section away from the front panel, to fit the bar in place
  • I then stuck it in place with some electricians tape

All you need to do now is put it all together and turn on your Octane – and away you go.


No hack would be complete without some poor digital photography to provide the details.

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Silicon Graphics 1600SW

Hacks, Silicon Graphics FAQs

Silicon Graphics’ 1600SW TFT display is a unique piece of kit. Due to it’s strengths it’s still sought after today, despite dating from 1998. However, like everything SGI produce, it looks very nice indeed, but is far from ‘normal’. Yes, even their monitors are a bit odd. Don’t expect to buy one and just plug it in.

This page is a collection of FAQs and information about this excellent display.

SGI’s 1600SW FAQs

SGI have a collection of 1600SW FAQs on their site. These are a bit outdated, as they refer to issues from when the monitor was in production, but they still have some useful information.

They can be found at

A local mirror can be found here.


What’s so good about the 1600SW anyway?

You mean, apart from the usual stylish SGI design? :-)

The two main things it has going for it are an incredibly fast pixel update – which means none of the using streaking or blurring you get from a TFT – even when playing games.

It’s also the only TFT (still!) to support a native 16:9 resolution. Not only does this mean that content creators can fit two full screens of work on, side by side (ie. two screens worth of 800×600 resolution) but it is also very handy for working with digital video.

Check this HotHardware review from December 2001:

What’s the connector on the 1600SW?

It’s OpenLDI, which was a (superior) alternative to DVI. Back in the day, there were two emerging digital formats – OpenLDI and DVI. Think Betamax and VHS. SGI went for the technically superior OpenLDI, and everyone else went for DVI.

So, can it plug into a DVI card then?

No, the connector and the signal are completely different.

What cards natively support the 1600SW then?

There are only 3:

  • 3D Labs Oxygen VX1-1600SW
  • Number Nine Revolution IV
  • Formac ProFormance 3 (Mac card)

What machines natively support the 1600SW?

Again, there were only 3 – all SGIs:

  • SGI 320
  • SGI 540
  • SGI O2/O2+

These machines will only support the 1600SW when they are fitted with a small credit-card sized adapter card. It fits onto the motherboard via a custom connector, and provides an LVDS connector for the on board graphics. These adapters occasionally pop up on Ebay, and will only work with the 1600SW.

So how can I use the 1600SW with my modern machine?

You’ve got a few choices here. The original is the MultiLink Adapter (MLA) from SGI. This takes HD15 analogue or DVI input, and provide LVDS output. They are obviously sought after, and often cost as much as the 1600SW itself.

The other, newer, option is the PIX Link adapter from PIX Solutions – their web site is The PIX Link is a DVI->LVDS converter. There is a Pro version which offers various extra options for choosing resolution, colour temp, etc.

I have a PIX Link and it works very well indeed.

You can also buy a PCI-based pass-through adapter. It’s PCI based so that you don’t need another external box – it takes power from the PCI bus and requires no OS drivers to function. The card has been developed by Dan Evanicky (head of the engineering team responsible for the 1600SW) and Oscar Medina. The card is distributed as the GFX-1600SW by UltraFlex and the EP-1600 by Sharper Technology.

UltraFlex also sell 1600SW displays with the GFX-1600SW mounted inside the flat-panel. The relevant power lines exist in the monitor to make this possible. They will also mount a converter inside an existing panel, and carry out repairs.

More details can be found at

As of December 2008, the only adapter available from new is the GFX-1600SW, which is available from Sharper Technology and Niktec. I’ve an updated post showing fitting a GFX-1600SW into my Fuel.

Now I’ve got the 1600SW working with my machine, but the display is funny?

The 1600SW’s native resolution is 1600×1024 @ 60Hz, which provides a true 16:9 display. Anything else is going to look odd – you’ll have letterbox blank spaces at the top or the side of the screen.

Also note that LCD displays, unlike CRTs, operate at a set resolution. Try to drive them at anything else and they will scale the image. This means it may not look in proportion, or the fonts look odd. With an LCD screen, you should always try and drive it at it’s native resolution.

What’s this about Super Wide Savvy cards?

It’s marketing fluff. It basically means a graphics card which can support 1600×1024 resolution. Most modern cards should be able to do this.

What’s this ColorLock thing?

The ColorLock is a widget that hooks over the top of the screen, and plugs into the back. You can then calibrate the colours using the display drivers on your host machine.

Note display drivers being the key phrase here – the ColorLock will only work with those machines that natively support the 1600SW. It’s useless on anything else.

What are the specs. of the 1600SW?

Brightness 170 Cd/m2 min., > 235 Cd/m2 maximum
Colour Resolution 16.7 million true colors
Contrast ratio 350:1 typical
Display area 14.6 inches (H) x 9.3 inches (V)
(369.6 mm (H) x 236.5 mm (V))
17.3 inch (44 cm) diagonal
Dimming range 35% to 100%
Dot pitch, dots per inch 0.23mm, 110dpi
Pixel resolution 1600 H x RGB x 1024 V
(4,915,200 subpixels)
Response time 40 ms typical combined rise and fall
13ms Rise
27ms Fall
Viewing angle Horizontal: ±60°
Vertical: +45°/-55°
White balance range 5000° K to 7000° K, adjustable through
software on the host computer

How else can I mount the screen?

The 1600SW has a standard 75mm VESA mounting at the back. Two hex bolts secure the display to it’s pedestal. Lift the screen up to the top of the pedestal and they should be easy to get to.

As well as standard 75mm VESA mounts, you can also use 100mm VESA mounts with an adapter.

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