What to do with a VW320?

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HurricaneJames
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What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby HurricaneJames » Sun Jul 16, 2017 11:20 am

TL;DR what would you do/demo with a VW 320?

So, I wanted a Visual Workstation 320 for a while. I have always loved the design, especially the sliding front door. Yesterday, I bought one for $200 from a guy on craigslist. I won't lie, I planned to gut it and make it my main VR machine (love my Oculus Rift).

However, this thing is pristine. Apparently, the guy worked for SGI, got the machine on the cheap, and only ever used it for accounting work. There are no real scratches, the original keyboard is in amazing condition, and it even has the little box with all the original manuals, CDs, firmware floppies, and mouse pad. Oh yeah, and a perfect 1600sw with a bright screen, no dead pixels, and a tiny 1600sw refrigerator magnet. The only downsides are the dual PII-500s, the original 9GB HDD, a limited 256MB of RAM, and a dead CR2032 RTC battery.

So now I'm torn. Do I gut this pristine original and make it the VR machine I planned, or do I leave it as an example of what was? Also, if I leave it as an example, what should I run? I tried the Visual Explorations CD, but it just throws some DOS error, probably because the machine was updated to win2k at some point.

I may still have a cracked copy of Maya or SoftImage in one of my binders. Please don't harp on copyright, we bought legit licenses for SI, Maya, MultiGen, etc. back in the day, but the cracked versions were less buggy, so we often used them. Heck, I might even have a dongle lying around still. That said, even if I find that kind of software, it isn't the most compelling thing to show off to people when I want to bore visitors with my collection.

Any suggestions?
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Irinikus
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby Irinikus » Sun Jul 16, 2017 11:32 am

If the machine is pristine, then keep it as an example of what was!

Its and SGI machine, not a PC! I hate to see it when people take old G4 powermacs and convert them to PC's. It must be funny to run windows on a machine with apple logo's all over it!

Even tough its performance won't come close to today's PC's, the point of collecting vintage machines is to enjoy them for what the are and to reminisce over the old days and to experience the machines that forged today's technology first hand.

In my case, I was still running a 486 (which I still have), back in the day when the O2 was released, its so interesting to see what was possible back in the day, especially machines such as the O2 which were completely out of my reach at that time!

If you need some inspiration concerning the VW320, then visit Ian Mapleson's page on the subject. This is the line of machines that could very well have saved SGI, if only they had come through on their promises regarding them!(future developments regarding this type of machine)
:Onyx2:Quad R14K 500Mhz, IR3 :Tezro:Quad R16K 700 Mhz 8Mb, V12 :Octane2:Dual R14K 600Mhz, V12 :O2:R12K 400Mhz :Indigo:R4400SC 150Mhz, ELAN :320:Dual 1Ghz PIII :Indigo2:R4400SC 200Mhz, Extreme :Indy:R4400SC 200Mhz, XZ :Indy:R5000SC 150Mhz, 24Bit XL.
SUN: JavaStation-10 (Krups).
DEC: AlphaStation 255/300Mhz.
Cray: Cray1: Memory Module, Cray2: Memory Module (complete stack of eight boards) and a power supply module, Cray3: ECL Module.
Apple: G3 Clamshell, G4 Sawtooth, G4 Quicksilver, G4 Mirror Doors, G5, Mac Pro 2013 (Trash can), 27 inch Cinema Display.
IBM: 486 DX-4 100Mhz, 32Mb RAM, Creative Soundblaster 16-Bit, 1.44 Mb Disk drive, Creative 4X CD-ROM, 520Mb HDD.
Alienware: Aurora 7500.
Gaming Rig: Coolermaster Cosmos II, Coolermaster Ultimate 1100W Power supply, Asus Rampage III extreme, I7 980X, Corsair H100, 24Gb Corsair Dominator DDR3, EVGA GTX Titan X Super Clocked Edition, OCZ revodrive 3 x2 240gb (System disk), Velociraptor 600GB, Corsair 128GB SSD, Creative Soundblaster X-fi Fatality Pro.

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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby uunix » Sun Jul 16, 2017 1:57 pm

Loft... it will be good fun in 2030.
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HurricaneJames
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby HurricaneJames » Sun Jul 16, 2017 9:12 pm

I completely agree about preserving vintage machines for what they were. I would not mess with a working O2, Octane, Amiga, Commodore, BeBox, PDP, etc... Those are all unique systems with unique cultures. However, Visual Workstations are not really special other than the case design and maybe the Cobalt graphics. Aside from that, they are basic PCs with limited software and options. Even with that said, I cannot bring myself to break such a perfect example like this. It would be like burning a book.

Funny, I was looking for a good case with busted electronics at a cheap price. Instead, the first 320 I stumble across is a pristine, complete workstation at an insane price. Now, if I could just get so lucky with an original Octane or Indigo.
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby HurricaneJames » Sun Jul 16, 2017 10:15 pm

Oh, and back in 1996 when the O2 was released, I was rocking a 486DX-33 with a full 16MB of RAM and an amazing 500MB HDD. The O2 was a dream beyond imagining for me. Sometimes I miss that old 486, but if I'm honest with myself it was junk. I cobbled it together from a few used parts. It was slow, broke all the time, and had a crappy VESA graphics card. It is probably best to leave it a happy memory.
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby spiroyster » Sun Jul 16, 2017 11:28 pm

I like to pretend the front panel is hydraulic and make a whooshing noise everytime I open it. That only entertains me for so long, and then I turn it on. o.0

While it not impossible to convert to ATX or something similar, the PSU is not ATX and thus the mounting is off so you need to file down some of the back panel to fit the plug in. Mobo is non standard, so comes free with non standard mountings. Basically, while it is a wintel, it's also quite far removed from anything PC standard other than OS, CPU and PCI slots. It does break out of the IDE bottlenecks with the UW SCSI. Which is nice.

If you want to see what it was capable of, go to the NASA website, find the biggest jpg you can, load it up on the 320 in photoshop and drag it around without breaking sweat, like its a 64x64 image. Load the same mahoosive image up on your Octane, attempt to do the same thing, and watch your Octane cry o.0.

This same UMA allows real-time video to be used as GL texture so you can plaster it onto any geometry and see spinny cubes and isometric surfaces displaying realtime video. Much more capable at this than the O2.

Avoid anything too 3D heavy as this will destroy the illusion of the 320.

Runs Q3DM rather nicely iirc, was a GL 1.4 compliant machine in a world of 1.2 (in 98 PC land) and probably the first ever decent example of an integrated OpenGL grapihcs solution on the PC platform. All in all a rather fine tuned TOTL for late 98 early 99. A year later the limited upgrade options for it made it somewhat redundant. I was still using mine until 2003 for 2D work though. But really was flogging the dead horse by that point.

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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby Irinikus » Mon Jul 17, 2017 12:22 am

Post some pictures, let's see it!
:Onyx2:Quad R14K 500Mhz, IR3 :Tezro:Quad R16K 700 Mhz 8Mb, V12 :Octane2:Dual R14K 600Mhz, V12 :O2:R12K 400Mhz :Indigo:R4400SC 150Mhz, ELAN :320:Dual 1Ghz PIII :Indigo2:R4400SC 200Mhz, Extreme :Indy:R4400SC 200Mhz, XZ :Indy:R5000SC 150Mhz, 24Bit XL.
SUN: JavaStation-10 (Krups).
DEC: AlphaStation 255/300Mhz.
Cray: Cray1: Memory Module, Cray2: Memory Module (complete stack of eight boards) and a power supply module, Cray3: ECL Module.
Apple: G3 Clamshell, G4 Sawtooth, G4 Quicksilver, G4 Mirror Doors, G5, Mac Pro 2013 (Trash can), 27 inch Cinema Display.
IBM: 486 DX-4 100Mhz, 32Mb RAM, Creative Soundblaster 16-Bit, 1.44 Mb Disk drive, Creative 4X CD-ROM, 520Mb HDD.
Alienware: Aurora 7500.
Gaming Rig: Coolermaster Cosmos II, Coolermaster Ultimate 1100W Power supply, Asus Rampage III extreme, I7 980X, Corsair H100, 24Gb Corsair Dominator DDR3, EVGA GTX Titan X Super Clocked Edition, OCZ revodrive 3 x2 240gb (System disk), Velociraptor 600GB, Corsair 128GB SSD, Creative Soundblaster X-fi Fatality Pro.

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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby mapesdhs » Mon Jul 17, 2017 3:56 pm

Testing a 320 when it came out was the first time I saw a PC load and display a large 50MB 2D image as fast as an Octane can do (spiroyster, I assume you're referring to MGRAS, as VPro easily allowed Octane to manipulate big images, and custom sw like ELT meant that MGRAS was pretty good aswell).

I posted some comments about the 320's potential below Dodoid's Part 7 (SGI history) video, there was demand for a proper followon using the same arch, especially of the 540, but alas SGI ditched the whole thing. Would have been difficult though, given how they were getting screwed anyway by MS, and meanwhile SGI was making it very difficult to sell these lower cost systems with its ridiculously outdated reseller sales model.

Ian.
I'm working on a charitable PC build for the Learn Engineering YouTube channel. Please PM/email/call if you'd like to contribute! Donations of items I can sell to provide funds are also welcome.
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby HurricaneJames » Mon Jul 17, 2017 9:00 pm

Hah, my wife took one look at that beast on HER dining room table and gave me a look. I had to put it away until I could clear off my workbench and set it up there. That will probably happen this weekend, so I'll post some pictures then. I swear, some people just don't understand :/
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby spiroyster » Tue Jul 18, 2017 1:29 am

You're too kind Ian...

Truth be told I didn't think about that, but yes I have never used a VPro in an Octane :oops: .

Think I meant...
Load the same mahoosive image up on your Octane'98/'99/'00/'01 PC, attempt to do the same thing, and watch your Octane'98/'99/'00/'01 PC cry Beg for mercy o.0


@HurricaneJames
Maybe not be rid of the 320 internals just yet. I've been wanting to write some demos to squeeze Cobalt on 320/540 for while now. Last time I used one for more than 10 minutes was like ...well 2003ish o.0. And I was only really finding my feet with graphics programming then, let alone having any clue how to push OpenGL. Fast forward to 2017 and I got me olde 320, and a 540, 10+ years CAD development experience and a few ideas (actually based on some real world scenarios when I wanted, on modern hardware, what the 320 would have offered me all those years ago :roll:). I should perhaps get off my arse and do something fun for once.

If you can get hold of one of the other non Colbalt 550/230 etc. That would be pretty much ready to go without any surgery required. No old style bug/hypercube logo though...Also somewhat more pratical than the 320/540 cases. While the 32/540 look cool as you like (540 feels huge!), they are also rather *awkward* shape and tend to reside alone, by themselves on/under desks. Mind you, if I looked that designer, I wouldn't want to be seen with anyone else either 8-)

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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby mapesdhs » Tue Jul 18, 2017 2:43 am

(sometimes I wonder whether but for women, we'd all have personal spaceships by now... ;)

Yeah, the 320/540 blew conventional PCs away completely when they first came out. People forget this. However, this only applies to tasks where IVC makes a significant difference. In other areas, such as straight number crunching, IVC was weak; SGI should not have sold them to customers who just wanted to crunch numbers, eg. rendering. Or at least, customers should have been encouraged to test things first.

As you say, their real strength was complex media, especially any task involving low geometry but large texture data, eg. GIS, medical, defense imaging, urban modelling, VR, etc. I ran a lab of twelve 320s which were used for urban modelling (an app called Realax IIRC). The researchers realised it made no difference how much texture data they used, so they were able to employ higher quality imagery for their real-time models, typically 200MB+ (that was huge back in 2001). They also employed composite textures to make it easier to manage the data, eg. one texture might be a single 4K image, then dozens of subsections would be referenced within the model to access separate smaller textures, ie. coords within the image, plus length/width to extract (IVC meant there was no overhead doing this). This worked very well, models of Manchester, Liverpool, etc. looked amazing.

Eventually though, performance did become an issue, the units were single or dual PIII/500 usually with 256MB RAM, some with 512MB. They needed more RAM and faster CPUs, but that was expensive (more SGI daftness). Thus, the lab switched to conventional PCs instead, P4/2.4 with GF4 Ti4600; much quicker on paper, but at first in reality a hundred times slower than the 320s, because the composite textures killed the GF4s stone dead (a 320 did 10fps, a GF4 PC did 1 frame per minute. :D). They had to rewrite all the models to use conventional LOD setups, so no more composite textures. What they really needed was a proper followon system, IVC2, which is what SGI had originally promised (and what the UK MoD wanted for a proper 540 followon aswell), but the 230/330/etc. were pointless, no arch advantages at all, much cheaper to buy the same or better tech from Viglen.

It also didn't help that the VWs couldn't take XP, more broken promises and SGI/MS b.s.

And yeah, the 540 is enormous. Mine has the dig video options btw. Anyone ever upgraded a 540 to max spec? I've obtained four 900MHz modules, but not sure where to begin, just removing the old modules looks dodgy.

Ian.
I'm working on a charitable PC build for the Learn Engineering YouTube channel. Please PM/email/call if you'd like to contribute! Donations of items I can sell to provide funds are also welcome.
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby spiroyster » Tue Jul 18, 2017 6:21 am

mapesdhs wrote:I ran a lab of twelve 320s which were used for urban modelling (an app called Realax IIRC). The researchers realised it made no difference how much texture data they used, so they were able to employ higher quality imagery for their real-time models, typically 200MB+ (that was huge back in 2001). They also employed composite textures to make it easier to manage the data, eg. one texture might be a single 4K image, then dozens of subsections would be referenced within the model to access separate smaller textures, ie. coords within the image, plus length/width to extract (IVC meant there was no overhead doing this). This worked very well, models of Manchester, Liverpool, etc. looked amazing.

Interesting, this is the way I see it. Outside of the huge images and glorified mipmaps, we basically have uber fast memory mapped (32-bit addresses), and topologically UV mapped data in one, which can be resolved using standard rasterization (visibility). These 'resolved' UV values can be used to open up a whole of world of indirection eventually arriving at all manner of data, all ultimately there, at your finger tips when you want it. None of this texture/vertex upload bottlenecking bollox. In fact the closest I got was a sort of example of something like this with a cornell box and radiosity where I rendered each patch from the point of view of the patch and rendered all other patches with individual colours (a 32-bit UUID, how convenient :)) and cached these rastered images. Then I could use the CPU to 'lookup' (equivalent to first bounce) with crayola UUID's, which would give the index in an uber array of pointers to these pre-rastered crayola UUID's views (aka the secondary bounce and patch visibility from said patch) and so on. Ironically this meant the image was actually rendered by the CPU (by lookup in the vast amount of precached view/pointerUUID frames present!), and the Rasterizer used for pure geometric intersection tests (but I could efficiently and dynamically multisample)... not that far removed form the lovely irony we have these days where we use the CPU's IGP for displaying the image, and the (GP)GPU for doing what the CPU should be doing o.0.

Not real-time (which is what I was going for), I gave up beyond limited geometry but have since had some inspirational ideas for improving this. And I only had two PIII/550's. I wonder what 4 x Xeons @900 could do...with a bit of the old SSE and better OpenMP utilisation thrown in.

mapesdhs wrote:What they really needed was a proper followon system, IVC2, which is what SGI had originally promised (and what the UK MoD wanted for a proper 540 followon aswell)

It's a shame what happened. Despite all the Achilles heels prevalent in the design of the architecture, I thought they were on to something good, and the compatibility with Windows opened up a whole load of software (and I don't mean games), pretty much all of which had no concept at the time how to fully use it :(

mapesdhs wrote:And yeah, the 540 is enormous. Mine has the dig video options btw. Anyone ever upgraded a 540 to max spec? I've obtained four 900MHz modules, but not sure where to begin, just removing the old modules looks dodgy.

I have 3.5 GB (because we know how fickle it is), 8 x SL4XZ (in case 4 don't work ;), I'm hoping this is compatible). A QLogic 1280 I think? (need Acard for SSD :)), a black bezeled zip drive...and I'm almost ready to go. My only current obstacle is that I'm recovering from an injury and can't do any manual labour/lifting for a few weeks/months. gritter :(

It's the VRM's I'm concerned about as it's not really my area and I don't know if they will hold up? I'm determined at some point in my life to max out the hardware... and then max out the maxed out hardware as I've always wondered what it could really do :).

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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby HurricaneJames » Tue Jul 25, 2017 2:58 pm

I promised pictures! Also, turned out I was wrong, it isn't dual PII-500s, it is a single PIII-500.

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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby mapesdhs » Tue Jul 25, 2017 5:08 pm

At least it already has the latest fw and Win2K, which is good. Only thing I would do is up the RAM to 512MB and move the OS onto a 15K SCSI (QLA1280 is a good choice).

Ian.
I'm working on a charitable PC build for the Learn Engineering YouTube channel. Please PM/email/call if you'd like to contribute! Donations of items I can sell to provide funds are also welcome.
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Re: What to do with a VW320?

Unread postby Irinikus » Tue Jul 25, 2017 7:56 pm

That looks really cool, a very good example of a 320!

Upgrade it a Ian suggests and enjoy it for what it is. :D

They're hard to find in that condition so that was a good find.
:Onyx2:Quad R14K 500Mhz, IR3 :Tezro:Quad R16K 700 Mhz 8Mb, V12 :Octane2:Dual R14K 600Mhz, V12 :O2:R12K 400Mhz :Indigo:R4400SC 150Mhz, ELAN :320:Dual 1Ghz PIII :Indigo2:R4400SC 200Mhz, Extreme :Indy:R4400SC 200Mhz, XZ :Indy:R5000SC 150Mhz, 24Bit XL.
SUN: JavaStation-10 (Krups).
DEC: AlphaStation 255/300Mhz.
Cray: Cray1: Memory Module, Cray2: Memory Module (complete stack of eight boards) and a power supply module, Cray3: ECL Module.
Apple: G3 Clamshell, G4 Sawtooth, G4 Quicksilver, G4 Mirror Doors, G5, Mac Pro 2013 (Trash can), 27 inch Cinema Display.
IBM: 486 DX-4 100Mhz, 32Mb RAM, Creative Soundblaster 16-Bit, 1.44 Mb Disk drive, Creative 4X CD-ROM, 520Mb HDD.
Alienware: Aurora 7500.
Gaming Rig: Coolermaster Cosmos II, Coolermaster Ultimate 1100W Power supply, Asus Rampage III extreme, I7 980X, Corsair H100, 24Gb Corsair Dominator DDR3, EVGA GTX Titan X Super Clocked Edition, OCZ revodrive 3 x2 240gb (System disk), Velociraptor 600GB, Corsair 128GB SSD, Creative Soundblaster X-fi Fatality Pro.


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