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July 2, 2002

The impending McKinley Itanium 2 announcement from Intel Corp has all the RISC/Unix vendors redrawing or at least coloring in their own product roadmaps, and workstation and HPC server vendor SGI is no different, Timoty Prickett Morgan writes.

SGI is widely expected to make a statement of direction that will see the company push Itanium-based machines employing open source systems and middleware software along side its MIPS-based Origin servers and Onyx visualization systems (think of it as workstations created directly from slices of a parallel supercomputer and you'll get the right idea), which run the Irix variant of Unix.

Company executives have been taking a tour with the press and analyst communities to explain that the endorsement of Itanium 2 machines and open source software has not in any way undermined the company's commitment to 64-bit MIPS processors running Irix as its core strategic platform.

Quite the contrary, in fact. SGI believes that its core high performance computing market is expanding fast enough to support both types of platforms and that HPC customers will want to indulge in these two different platforms depending on the their capacity needs and budgets.

When Silicon Graphics Inc got into dire financial straits a few years ago after a failed attempt to break into the Windows NT workstation market, the company in 1998 changed its name to SGI and spun out its embedded MIPS processor business as a separate entity.

Many people believed at the time that SGI was getting out of the business of designing processors in its Unix machines and many still unwittingly believe this today (Maybe that's because that's what SGI was saying in 1998? Ed - Reg.)

As the Itanium 2 processor looms large, SGI is taking the opportunity to remind those who have forgotten that it does in fact design its own 64-bit variants of the MIPS processors, as it has since the MIPS spinout, and that its chip fab partner, NEC Corp, is committed to cooking up these chips using the latest, greatest technologies so SGI can create powerful, dense workstations and servers for the demanding technical workloads that HPC users have these days.

Like IBM Corp, Sun Microsystems Inc, and Hewlett Packard Co, SGI has enhancements to its variants of the R series of 64-bit MIPS processors scheduled regularly over the next four years, and is, like these other RISC/Unix suppliers, working on advanced chip and server designs beyond this time.

SGI's job is somewhat simplified by the fact that its Origin 300 servers, which scale up to 32 processors in a single NUMA image, and Origin 3000 servers and Onyx 3000 visualization systems, which use NUMA to scale up to 512 processors in a single system image, are only targeted at HPC workloads rather than more generic commercial workloads like application or database serving.

Because SGI is focused on HPC performance, where memory and I/O bandwidth is perhaps as important as clock cycles and caches, SGI does not have to crank up the clock speeds of the MIPS processors as IBM, HP, Sun, and Intel have to do with their machines to keep pace with each other as they target clock-hungry commercial applications. SGI wants to build powerful, dense HPC servers.

This is why SGI is committed to the MIPS processors it designs, which the company believes will yield more powerful and, more importantly, more dense Origin servers and Onyx visualization systems than those that could be built using alternative chips like the Itanium 2, which runs at 1GHz but which throws off too much heat to be packed densely in the racks and racks of servers that dominate HPC centers.

If anything, explains Addison Snell, product marketing manager for high performance servers at SGI, the company is committed to keeping the clock speed on its R series processors as low as possible. " SGI is focused on delivering sustained performance across a wide variety of technical workloads," he says. "We're purposefully not getting into the megahertz race. It is not appropriate for the high performance computing market."

Snell says that at 600MHz, the core of the R14000A processor - designed by SGI and built using a 0.13 micron copper process by NEC - throws off about 17 watts of heat. He says that this is smack dab in the middle of the range of 15 watts to 20 watts that SGI targets for heat dissipation levels with each of its MIPS processors.

By contrast, the Sun UltraSparc-III core throws off 70 watts to 80 watts depending on the clock speed, and that other RISC processors on the market and the future Itanium chips dissipate anywhere from 110 watts to 130 watts per processor core, according to Snell. This is obviously too much heat to tightly pack processors to create massively parallel supercomputers, or even dense minisupers.

The R14000 processor from SGI, announced in July 2001, was the first chip the company designed that changed from 0.18 micron aluminum to a five-layer 0.13 micron copper process. The R14000 ran at 500MHz and delivered a peak 1 gigaflops of number-crunching power per processor. Like earlier R series processors, it has 8MB of external L2 cache. The R14000 was a shrink of the 400MHz R12000 processor, which delivered two floating point operations per second or 800 megaflops of power. In February 2002, SGI announced the R14000A, the current top-end chip in its servers, which uses a seven-layer 0.13 micron copper process that allows the MIPS core to be shrunk enough so it can run at 600MHz instead of 500MHz. Snell says that SGI's installed base has moved to the 500MHz R14000s and is moving ahead with the 600MHz R14000As.

Sometime in 2003, SGI and NEC will move the MIPS processor to a 0.11 micron, eight-layer copper process that will enable the MIPS chip to run at 700MHz and deliver 1.4 gigaflops of processing power. This chip is code-named "N0" and may be branded as the R16000.

In 2004, SGI will debut the "N1" processor, which will have two floating point units instead of one, an additional load/store unit, L2 cache memory (size unknown) on the chip die, L2 and L3 cache directories on chip, and a new microprocessor bus with four times the bandwidth of the current R series of chips. The quadrupling of bus bandwidth will be necessary because the N1 processor, which may be marketed as the R18000, will come in single-core and dual-core implementations. The N1 processors will be created using a nine-layer, 0.11 micron copper process and will have a core frequency of 800MHz. So a single core N1 processor will deliver a peak 3.2 gigaflops of power and a dual-core N1 will deliver 6.4 gigaflops of peak processing power.

The "N2" processor that is set to debut in 2005 is still in the definition stages, and may be called the R20000. SGI says that the single core version of this processor will, at 1GHz or higher clock speeds, deliver a peak 8 gigaflops of floating point performance, and the dual-core version will deliver a peak 16 gigaflops. These numbers seem to imply that the N2 chips will have four floating point units, each capable of performing two instructions per clock, compared to the single FPs used in the R14000 and R14000A chips today.

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bye o2

May 21, 2002

Dear Valued SGI Customer:

Thank you for your purchase of Silicon Graphics O2® and/or Silicon Graphics O2+® visual workstations. We appreciate innovative customers like you who have made the O2 and O2+ workstations such successful platforms. At present, our strongest demand for O2 and O2+ workstations is from OEM customers, and as a result, we are gradually phasing O2 and O2+ into an OEM-only platform.

The intent of this letter is to allow you ample time to plan for your transition from O2 and O2+ to the Silicon Graphics Fuel™ platform and to let you know about the services we can offer to ensure that the process is a smooth one for you. For an introduction to Silicon Graphics Fuel, which offers the performance, quality and stability that you expect from SGI® workstation products, please contact your local sales representative or visit www.sgi.com/workstations/fuel/

The timeline for our O2 and O2+ transition is as follows:

· O2 and O2+ systems will be removed from the SGI pricebook as of August 1, 2002

· SGI will accept orders for O2 and O2+ systems until October 1

After this transition, O2 and O2+ systems can be sourced through our Remanufactured Products Group on an "as-available" basis (Note that remanufactured systems may constitute used or refurbished components, either in whole or in part, since SGI cannot guarantee the availability of new material after completion of final production. Your local sales representative is available to speak with you about these options, as well as to explore solutions for your needs from our current product line, to ensure that your current and future systems requirements are met.)

· Product support of O2 and O2+ systems continues until at least September 31, 2007

SGI is committed to providing a high level of quality technical assistance for your O2 and O2+ systems. We will continue to make this support available to you under our standard contractual support programs, or on a time and materials basis. Support may include:

· Access to the SGI Customer Support Center (via telephone and electronically)

· Updated IRIX® operating system revisions, related platform-specific software, and applications developed by SGI, provided at the discretion of SGI

· Problem escalation and critical bug fixes via patches

· On-site hardware support and parts exchange

· Spare parts sales and spares repair services

· Options, upgrades, and refurbished systems through our Remanufactured Products Division

Under the guidelines of our product support policy, the above level of technical assistance is available for a minimum period of five (5) years after the end of production of each particular platform. After the five-year support period (September 31, 2007), continued support of these O2 and O2+ systems and upgrades will be provided at the discretion of SGI.

We want to ensure that you continue to receive an effective and affordable umbrella of technical assistance and service for your SGI product. For more information about SGI hardware upgrades, trade-ins, and our newest line of system products, please contact your local sales office or visit our Corporate Web site, www.sgi.com, for more details.

Thank you for your business, and we look forward to supporting you through this product transition.

Click here to see the affected systems with marketing code and description

Julien Zanchi, O2 and O2+ Product Manager

Art Ordonio Support Program Manager

from http://support.sgi.com

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IRIX 6.5.x

SGI SPECIAL: Introducing the Jewel of UNIX, the 64-bit IRIX OS

In the '90s, before MacOSX was released, if people were to reffer to a user-friendly Unix that looked cool at the time, that would have been SGI's 64-bit operating system for the MIPS processors, the IRIX [http://www.sgi.com/developers/technology/irix/index.html].

IRIX was first released in 1987, and by 1995 was already a highly respected UNIX, the first with immense multimedia capabilities! Check out our introduction and some screenshots of IRIX.

SGI was very kind to send us in this dual Octane [http://cmgm.stanford.edu/help/manual/hardware/computers/Octane/hp_octane.jpg] 2x195 Mhz MIPS machine accompanied with a 24" SGI-branded Trinitron monitor. IRIX 6.5.17 came preinstalled with the machine. The Octane boots IRIX in something less than 1.5 minutes, which is a normal booting time for "traditional" Unices. Shutdown time is almost instant though.

Being a UNIX, IRIX is fully multi-user, and while I tried all the pre-configured users on this machine (including root), I mostly used the system for the past two weeks using the "Guest" account. The Guest account has quite some privillages by default, I was even able to install software, for example some KDE libraries and applications, so it was good enough to keep me going.

The IRIX desktop features a long-ish rectangle in the upper left of the screen, called the Toolchest. Think of it as the "Start menu" of IRIX. You can open from there the filemanager for local or networked drives, access your preferences, open applications or virtual workspaces.

With IRIX a number of applications and GL demos are included, among these you will find Netscape 4.79, which is the main browser in the system, Nedit, an email client and lots of other X software like XCalc, XClock etc.

Click for a larger version

From the server side of things, you will find Apache, the ability to browse or share resources and folders via NFS and more.

The great thing about IRIX is that a lot of open source applications have been ported over to the proprierty X11 of IRIX, so I was able to run a full Gnome 1.4.1 session, Windowmaker, Gnumeric, Gimp, XMMS and even Qt applications and KDE 3.0.2. The good people at SGI have installed the latest "Freeware CDs" that SGI is offering, so even Mozilla 1.0 was included to... save me from the Netscape 4.79 experience. First thing I did of course was to change the tsch shell over to Bash.

The SGI desktop is of course based on a heavily modified commercial X Server. And here I will stop for a second, get a big breath and say: 'wow'. I have never seen an X server being so fast, on a 5-year old machine (no matter if this is an SGI machine or not). X just works and the OS recognizes all the possible VESA resolutions (not like XFree86 and its problems with high-end monitors)! IRIX boots into graphics immediately, no text mode at all. The interesting thing is that even Mozilla and Gnome 1.4 feels very fast on this machine, much faster than on my much newer dual Celeron 533 PC. While I could not "measure" exactly its speed, I think that this dual Octane at 195 Mhz is at least as fast as a PIII at 700 Mhz or so it feels like.

The OS comes with a number of preference panels for audio, video hardware, graphics hardware, mouse and more. There is this application called "Icon Catalog" while while it looks like a file manager, it has categorized items where you can access the installed applications. Under the Media tab you will find applications like a Media Player, MediaRecorder, Converters, Sound players, Video In/Out apps and more.

One of the most innovating things about the IRIX in the '90s were the vector icons it uses for its desktop and file/icon managers. IRIX had vector support by default in its desktop long before MacOSX ever existed.

Click for a larger version

[http://www.stormloader.com/amiga/irix3.htm] For the Unix side of things, IRIX is based on BSD 4.4 (do not confuse this root of all BSDs in the '80s with today's FreeBSD 4.x), and its directory structure is definately a bit different than what you find on today's Linuxes. There are a lot more information and directories lying around. Maybe the most easy to spot difference is that there is no "home" directory, instead it is called "people" and it lives under /usr/.

IRIX packages are called "tardist" and there is a GUI tool to install/uninstall applications! Most of the software for IRIX is coming in this pre-defined package format, which makes it very easy to handle packages. Because there is one IRIX, one company behind it, and very specific versions, there are virtually no dependancy problems. Installations just work.

The filesystem used is the well known XFS file system, which is my favorite under the Linux platform as well (mostly because of its resemblance and similar feature-set to BFS - not a surprise, the person who created the BFS, Dominic Giampaolo, used to work at SGI before he come to Be to create BFS). It seems to perform very well (even if the hard drives included in this Octane are a bit dated these days).

The window manager included on IRIX is the 4Dwm, while the toolkit used is the king of the Unix toolkits, Motif. It was cool to see the IRIX supports "Data Translations" which are mini-apps that transform from one multimedia file format to another.

SGI machines based on MIPS are mostly serving two kinds of applications: High-end movie animating (Simpsons were created with SGIs and a trackload of movies with special effects) and OpenGL applications (eg. a visual weather system, astronomy stuff, CAD/CAM and more). While I didn't have any animating software to test with, there are a number of OpenGL demos and apps included in the system. And I am very positively surprised as to how FAST OpenGL is on an SGI machine. We should not forget that this is a 5 year old graphics card and machine, which came out at a time that Voodoo1 was making its first shy steps, and SGI was already selling graphics cards that are faster than my recently purchased GeForce2MX-400 Asus card (one of the fastest GeForce2MX models). I ran some GL demos and screensavers on this machine on full resolution at 1920x1200 and they were not losing frames at all. I ran similar GL screensavers and other pretty low-complexity demos on my AthlonXP 1600+ (a machine faster than this Octane) under Red Hat Linux 8.0 the other day, and when the nVidia drivers wouldn't choke and crash the kernel, the overall performance was sub-optimal. Of course, SGI has tweaked their X server to fully "understand" and support OpenGL and multiple overlays, but this is something that the other Unices haven't mastered yet (with only exception this of the pretty recent MacOSX, which however is not based on X11).

Click for a larger version

So far, so good. I am very impressed by the stability and speed of this system. However, there are bad points to be mentioned as well. For example, SGI does not make full use of the XFS goodies, at least not the way BeOS did. Also, the OS looks dated. It really looks unatractive when compared to brand new OS systems. Usabilty of the OS is an issue as well. That filemanager, whilst is fast and spiffy doing vector stuff, it is really limited. I am sure that most people who are using IRIX are using it just to use a very specific high-end application and they do not use the system as a desktop, still, it could have been better. I feel that SGI does not put a lot of effort to update the desktop and provide something new and fresh. IRIX is pretty much the same as it was 2 or 3 or 4 years ago. And this is truly a shame, because underneath this greyish ugly-ish look and pretty problematic usability, there is a huge potential. SGI needs to invest in this OS. It is truly the jewel of UNIX, it has extraordinary tweaks in its kernel and X11 and surrounding libraries to perform greatly on multimedia and even server tasks, but it is also true that the system looks dated.

Personally, I will follow the future of IRIX with great interest, because as I said above, there is still huge potential and more advances to be made to this fully 64-bit operating system.

  By Eugenia Loli-Queru - Posted on 2002-10-02 17:49:08
in OSNews [http://www.osnews.com/]

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