SGI MIPS news
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.
HTMLized by email@example.com
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
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,
· SGI will accept orders for O2 and O2+ systems until October
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
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
· 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.
you for your business, and we look forward to supporting you through this
here to see the affected systems with marketing code and description
Julien Zanchi, O2 and O2+ Product Manager
Art Ordonio Support Program Manager
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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
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
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.
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.
[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
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).
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/]