Shark demo (1994) running on a SGI O2 workstation

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This is one of the demos that were used by Silicon Graphics and Nintendo to show the graphics features of their upcoming game console (Project Reality / Ultra 64 / Nintendo 64) during CES in 1994.

SGI used an Onyx supercomputer to run the demo. I recorded it in 1024×768 (true-color) on a much less powerful SGI O2 workstation (released in 1996). O2 is based on a graphics architecture similar to what was actually used in Nintendo 64. It was a perfect fit for an inexpensive highly-integrated computer as well as a game console.

I would rather use a different SGI computer (Octane2 was my first choice), but O2 was the only machine that was compatible with my cheap VGA-to-HDMI converter.

Inside the SGI O2 UNIX Workstations

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SGI O2 was designed as a small low-cost workstation. This is clearly visible on its internal hardware architecture with unified memory shared between the graphics chipset, CPU, and add-on video grabber. I like the smart design of the case. Everything is easily accessible (except for the CD-ROM drive which needed to be fixed). You can replace the mainboard or hard drives quickly and without any tool.

Btw two of the three mainboards are alive so at least two machines will work. Two working boards are equipped with 180-MHz MIPS R5000 (one in a version without L2 cache). These CPUs were the lowest available options.

LightWave 3D Running on SGI Indigo2

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LightWave 3D started its life on Amiga as a part of the NewTek’s Video Toaster editing system. It evolved in a good stand-alone 3D modeling software and was very popular. However, when Commodore filed for bankruptcy (1994) nobody in the professional market believed in bright future of Amiga. NewTek needed to find a different OS for its products which resulted in support for Windows NT (x86, Alpha) and SGI IRIX (MIPS).

LightWave on SGI was not a very long story. There were only few versions released. The main problem was in price/performance ratio. SGI hardware was expensive and usually it didn’t make much sense to buy it for generic software that is also available for other CPU/OS platforms. LightWave offered way more performance for the same price on Alpha-based Windows NT workstations which was a preferred option for some time. One year later the market shifted to Intel Pentium Pro CPUs with similar performance and broader software support (Windows NT could run only 16bit Intel-x86 software on Alpha).

I have LightWave 3D 5.6 installed on SGI Indigo2 with 250-MHz MIPS R4400 CPU and the rendering performance is only slightly better than on my 133-MHz Pentium MMX-based Toshiba laptop. NewTek apparently didn’t optimize the program to take advantage of SGI hardware.