Silicon Graphics: Gone But Not Forgotten

Being hired to operate a brand new $50k SGI Personal Iris (4D/25) running CAD/CAM software in 1990 still stands as the most amazing technological leap of my career. Real time model rotation with the SGI dials wasn't intuitive initially, but became an extension of your brain eventually. Still so thankful to have fallen into that position ;)


Posts: 25   +19
I remember being in college in Trinity College Dublin some time in early nineties when SGI came to the Computer Science department to flog some of their gear (in the Hamilton Building - named after Irish mathematician Hamilton who invented quaternions) - I just happened to walk thorough and go into the room they were demoing their gear in. I remember being in awe of this 250K purple Onyx (I think it was - the half sized rack size of small fridge one) but all it was showing was a single window and a chrome shiny car model that could be rotated in real-time. State-of-the-art at the time - how far we have come since graphics hardware wise - wonder how much faster a 4090 is than that $250K Onyx! I was messing around with Lightwave 3D myself at the time on a lowly Amiga 1200 at home
Thanks so much for this article -- I enjoyed it immensely, especially as I worked just down the road from SGI. I.T. geeks like me lusted after these gorgeous machines we would never be able to afford. What a nice trip down memory lane.


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People seem to forget that all the first digital computers (I.e. computers based on the use of transistors as on/off switches) were RISC computers until CISC came along with the breakthrough CISC computers based on the 8088 using MSDOS. SGI were an early challenger for Apple who also only produced RISC computers. SGI were selling the high performance graphics RISC computer against Apple and their low performance RISC computers - with their costs being likewise. As was predicted there were many fewer graphic application that could justify the cost of the SGI's vs. the Apples. At the high performance end any company that had a mix of graphics and semi-graphic computational apps (like 2D CAD) would prefer the DEC VAX (a pioneer high performance CISC computer) with its high performance VMS OS. SGI did not fit into any industry except the entertainment one but sold their product at industry prices.


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We had a 3000 series in our lab for modeling 3D protein structure in real-time. There were rumors of a flight simulator out there for SGI systems but I never saw it.
The rumors are true. I was a mechanical designer at a company back in '95, we ran Pro/E on Indigo2 machines. On breaks several of us would play the flight sim in deathmatch mode. The Boeing 707 could carry about 40 sidewinder missiles. Also their Battlezone clone was great fun.


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The good thing about tech is that it will become cheaper in time if you wait long enough.


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My dad was in IT back in the 80's/90's and worked on maintaining some of the systems and SW. When he talked about them he called them "Silly G's" (Silicon Graphics). Fabulous nick name for them :)

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,363   +8,581
GREAT Article! I used SGI in the early days of CAD before AutoCAD and a few others. While it had a significant learning curve, it as worth every second spent on it and even today many of it's offerings and superior to even the newest products.


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CGI has gone long way since the first SGI workstations, but when you watch Abyss, a movie from 1989 (probably rendered in 1988) it still looks spectacular today. Imagine the effort.

I also remember the first Jumanji (from 1996 if I recall correctly) where for the first time an elephant walking all over a car looked extremely convincing. After that movie I knew I can't trust the TV news anymore, because anything can be manufactured and simulated.