I’ve brought some of my computers to Bytefest (a big Czech vintage computer show): Apple PowerBook 100 with an external floppy drive, IBM PS/2 P70 as a cool gas-plasma-screen serial terminal, SGI O2 (used only as a hard drive cloning machine running in headless mode), SGI Octane2 with all necessary peripherals and DELL Precision M50 for sharing wireless Internet connection with my other machines (and also to show how the graphics workstation market changed in less than two years from Octane2).
I’ve salvaged two SGI O2 workstations in a very good shape. They were used in Military Research Institute Brno (a state-owned enterprise in Czech Republic). Both have 300-MHz MIPS R5000, 128MB RAM and an extremely noisy 9GB hard drive made by IBM. One of them is full of dust and needs cleaning really bad but the other (which held classified information according to stickers) is clean like new. They were for free.
I was also given two packs full of CDs with SGI marketing materials, sets of hi-res photos of SGI computers for printed magazines and technical presentations for SGI customers. Most of it can be shared with public so I’m thinking about uploading it somewhere.
We have three SGI Octane2 workstations in our “lab” but none of them were in the ready-to-use state. I’ve decided to take a look on the one which looked like it could work (the only one with hard drives). Already installed IRIX was somehow corrupted and was accessible only by using a serial terminal. I realized after a few hours that the original installation couldn’t be fixed with my knowledge although the hardware (graphics card) was ok. The only way was to install a fresh IRIX.
I used a laptop with a serial terminal emulator instead of local peripherals and SGI O2 as a server containing all the installation files. For the first time I used BOOTP and TFTP to boot a computer over network. I was surprised how easy it was. The former (BOOTP) is intended to get a boot program to the memory of a target computer (to be executed then). The latter (TFTP) is intended for simple file transfer. Good thing is that you don’t need properly configured Ethernet interface to get this working. A server just needs to know the MAC address of a client and a file to be sent.
It took me more than ten hours but I have one fully working Octane2 now. Surprisingly, booting and accessing all files over the network was the easiest part. Most of the time was spent on identifying the initial issue, “package dependency hell” (typical for UNIX systems) and the fact that the IRIX 6.5.22 boot file didn’t work. I had to start with IRIX 6.5.5, install a special patch and then install IRIX 6.5.22 (which correctly recognized all the hardware inside Octane2).
It was definitely an interesting experience… but I hope I won’t need to do this all again soon. Anyway, for a moment I felt like a real UNIX geek.
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.
SGI guys are moving to an HPE office building so I’ve visited them to take some junk that would be otherwise thrown away. I took one SGI 320* and three SGI O2 workstations plus few small industrial (non-SGI SGI-branded) computers. There was a lot of old hi-end servers, JBODs, FC switches, NUMA link boxes and so on but the storage capacity of my house is limited so I had to let them there.
*) It’s one of their first x86-based visual workstations. It’s not PC compatible and its architecture is similar to O2. The only supported OSes are Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 and you need a special loader to get Windows running on this system.