15 March 2007, 01:18 by mark hoekstra

cleaning out some old machinery

the once unreachable Indigo2

About a month ago, I picked up a true Silicon Graphics Indigo2. Now for you who don’t know what kind of system this is, here’s a slight impression from a very old review (from 1993!):

“If a computer could be the stuff of dreams, the Indigo2 is it. The brand new Indigo2, the latest machine from Silicon Graphics, is not your average desktop PC; it is the stuff of dreams. Its turquoise case, crammed with leading edge technology, will set you back a mere 34,000 UKP.

Silicon Graphics (SGI) flew the Indigo2 into the country and gave it to PCW for a European exclusive review. Two days later it was back on another plane and flying home to SGI’s Mountain View headquarters in California. While it was winging its way back across the Atlantic, the PCW office was still abuzz. Talk was of the incredible moving 3D imaging, the size of the graphics ‘card’, the memory, the sound, and of course the cost. For that money you could buy a lot of other hardware, but the decision was unanimous. Thirty-four cheapo 486 PCs or an Indigo2? An Indigo2, please.”

Mind you, the choice was: thirty-four PCs or this one Silicon Graphics… And now, fourteen years later, the choice is: this one Silicon Graphics or taking your girl out for dinner (not too fancy though, otherwise you could’ve had two SGIs!)

Now, after making sure my Indigo2 was working, I decided it could use a nice cleaning-out before I do anything else with it. Actually, it was a friend of mine, Asim, who got me motivated in doing that. I gave him one of my Sun UltraSPARC2s and when he mailed me some pictures of the cleaning out of that machine, I started thinking “Now why haven’t I done that to my Indigo2?” and so it went…

People who also watch my flickr photos have seen these already, but with all the iPod madness going on, I didn’t have time to write it up any sooner.

clicking one of the pics takes you to the corresponding pic on flickr

The videocard consists of three PCBs. Four if you also count the live-video I/O-board…

clicking one of the pics takes you to the corresponding pic on flickr

Left, one of the raster-engines. Right, one of the quad geometry-engines…

clicking one of the pics takes you to the corresponding pic on flickr

left, the CPU without a fan. Right, the whole machine assembled back together.

all the pics can be found right here

Anyway, I keep having a soft spot for this stuff. Why? Because of the build quality, the mystique of this brand, everything on this kind of hardware oozes that they were on the right path back then. Mind you, it runs a very proper Unix, heck, it even has vectorized icons and a journaling filesystem. Stuff some OS-makers still don’t seem to get right(...) *^_^*

Somehow I just love spending time on this old gear, for one to wonder where we have gone wrong in this industry. People knew how to build computers but somewhere someone decided computers aren’t allowed to cost a thing anymore and production had to become cheaper and cheaper to a point where it sometimes is pathetic to see how nowadays computers are built. And don’t get me started on this or I’ll show you the innards of a VAX! ^_^

Next to the fact that it’s mere impossible to cut yourself on a machine like this, (people who ever tried to assemble something inside a cheap Chinese PC-case know what I’m talking about) there’s also a reason this stuff keeps running, it’s built properly, no component is overclocked in such a way that it’s lifespan is about the same period as its support contract… If a machine keeps running for fourteen years, you could say hardwarewise it’s a proper(ly built) machine and I guess this once $64,000 machine is just that. Nowadays you could get even more than thirty-four PCs for that kind of money. But still, there’s a lot to be learned in how these systems were built and engineered and if you’re eager to find out a thing or two about that, systems like this can be had for near to nothing. When you put in the time and start spending some hours on the truly unique IRIX even more questions will pop up about where all this knowledge has gone because a lot of it didn’t end up in the PC on your desk, that’s for sure! ^_^

To sum it all up: It’s old, it’s hardly useful in any way nowadays but boy, do I respect this stuff.

Oh and I didn’t pick up this system for no reason. The idea is to make this my obsolete video-editing system for some minor video-footage on this site. Mind you, all this has cost less than a new webcam (and this machine came with an Indycam) with some editing software…

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  1. AIR @ 15 March 2007, 03:24 :


  2. rrRIiiiiiiiiiiiiAaaa @ 15 March 2007, 04:12 :


  3. michael @ 15 March 2007, 04:44 :

    man(girl maybe) you need some anger management classes & maybe some high school english classes cause your attempt at getting all graphic was unquestionably shit. I mean your trying to intimidate a guy about his blog?? It is truely pathetic someone would pester this guy for this long over his blog.

  4. Tarmas @ 15 March 2007, 09:00 :

    Nah. That’s no fun.

    Try getting a Power Mac 7600 or a similar machine, get OS X working with XPostFacto and hack the hell out of this box to get the video input working. Now that’s a challenge :)

    Cheers, Markie!

    PS. I really enjoyed the second comment. Whoa, you got some seriously sounding enemies ;)

  5. markie @ 15 March 2007, 09:44 :

    Ah well, normally I remove his comments, since that's what I promised him I'd do but since you guys already reacted to it, I only removed the text.

    He thinks he’s a big boy, threatening and stuff but his words carry no value. Already mentioned 10(?) times how he would DDoS me… Well, he’s either incapable or lying or both or I just haven't noticed his 'attack'. It’s better not to give this guy any attention, he can’t handle it just as he can’t handle life. ;-)

  6. michael @ 18 March 2007, 03:26 :

    hey mark how are things coming along with the powerbook mods? any chance of some sneak photos on the flickr??? been a while since last heard what you were doing with it

  7. markie @ 18 March 2007, 16:14 :

    >how are things coming along with the powerbook mods?

    Well, I’m not there yet. I’m still in the planning-phase. On the one hand that’s good, cause I already have changed quite some ideas, one the other hand, it’s about time I start working on it for real! :-)

  8. Chris @ 25 March 2007, 23:57 :

    I agree with your thoughts on computer production these days, and that’s one of the reasons I sort of hope that Apple doesn’t follow the lead of everyone else, and make el-cheapo machines. I still have a Power Macintosh G4 (450MHz Sawtooth model), and I thought that it had what must be the greatest design ever. Everything’s easy to access, and almost idiot-proof.

    I’ve had to work with numerous PCs, and I can say that design with PCs has gone downhill. I have cut up my hands quite well on those little cases. sigh. Should take a picture of my hand one of these days _

  9. compudude86 @ 9 November 2007, 18:38 :

    you know, i couldnt agree with you more. i have an indigo, indigo2, and an indy. theres just something about the beauty of these things, the way they were engineered, designed, and marketed. at the time, these were the shit, and as a kid at the time i only dreamed of seeing one in person. not to mention, they could still kick a PCs ass up until recently, you show me a PC that can stand at the top of the mountain for 8 years! its just sad to see that apple, SGI, sun, all the unique computer makers that set themselves apart from the PC are becoming them. i guess its just a sign of the times.

  10. Chance @ 24 November 2009, 16:47 :

    Nice post – I’m a big fan of buying (and using) older SGI machines, as they are built like tanks and Irix is still the best OS I’ve ever used (OS X comes in third, after NextStep, purely because it’s getting a bit style-over-substance). I’ve got an Indigo with 150MHz cpu (an upgrade!), which is just a lovely thing – screwless case and I can get all the components out in about 30 seconds… I’ve got an O2, which is much-maligned, but is actually a joy to use (due for a wifi hack and a CPU upgrade). I’m picking up an Onyx2 soon, too.

    I look at the junk rammed into a gaming PC and wince – the commodity-based PC market doesn’t look at “systems”, it looks at parts and how it can shove them together. My Apple G5 PowerMac is the last non-SGI machine to impress me – it’s fast, stable, quiet and does what I want. I’m not concerned about gaming, etc – that’s what the PS3 is for, after all. I think that’s the real problem – we used SGIs for 3d/high-end video, we used Macs for design and print and we used consoles for gaming, then suddenly it was decided that the built-to-a-cost PC made for the best platform for converging all these disparate functions – all whilst sticking blindly with x86 at ever-faster cycles (with increased heat and power). A deskside SGI Onyx uses the sum total of 24Watts when idling, whilst the biggest PSU the “hungry” Octane 2 can handle is 747W at peak output (most users record lower). Gaming PCs are coming with 1000W, or even 1200W PSUs now and the sheer number of fans and extraneous crap that runs means that power consumption must be higher than on an SGI. I would hate to think of the cost of running a top end gaming PC for the duration of a teenager’s school holidays if they were running things like WoW on marathon sessions….

  11. Mike Hancock @ 22 May 2010, 09:48 :

    Hey, looking for some advice.
    How do you get an SGI Indy (irix 5.3) talking to an iMac running Snow Leopard?
    I have samba on the Indy, and it will talk to a win xp machine, but the iMac sees it, but can’t access it.
    You the Guru?

As mentioned in the Message from Mark's family this site has been made static. This means that it will be no longer possible to comment on his ideas and projects, but that we all can continue to cherish his creativity.

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