Is there something especially nifty I can do with a sexy SGI box?
April 13, 2006 7:06 AM   Subscribe

What cool stuff can I do with my newly-acquired SGI Octane?

I am the proud new owner of an SGI Octane from ebay. I bid very little money, on a lark, and won! Now I need to find a use for it.

I know I can put linux on it, and from what I read that would be a worthy project unto itself: experimental kernel, not totally supported hardware, etc. But after that is accomplished, it's a linux box, and that's not all that unique. What can I set it up to do, that would play to the strengths of this kewl hardware? And if it comes with IRIX still installed (not sure), should I just keep that and play with it? Other hardware info: R10000 250Mhz (dual, maybe... can't tell), 512M RAM.
posted by dammitjim to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
I worked for SGI for a number of years, and I think your better off leaving IRIX on it. It's a very nice, extremely stable *NIX. You'll have to really work to get Linux running on this box.
As far as what you can do with it, the primary use for these machines was as desktop workstations for heavy duty graphic design and CAD work. But that was ten years ago. The graphics chips in this machine are easily surpassed by today's cards.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:31 AM on April 13, 2006

From the look of the specs on the page you link to, it'd probably make a pretty kickass server, especially if you can figure out a way to get gigabit ethernet running on it. It looks like it has a monstrously fast internal bus, so it should be able to shove data around at incredible speed... it'd likely benefit from gigE. Most other machines of that era probably would have trouble saturating even regular Fast Ethernet.

If you can find a card that works, you can get cheapo gigE switches from Dell for about $150 or so.

As cosmicbandito says, maybe sticking with Irix would be your best bet.... but to go gigE, you might need Linux.
posted by Malor at 7:44 AM on April 13, 2006

One thing I wondered about the possibility of putting linux on it: how would that work? I mean, it's not like there's a livecd to boot from, right? So I need to compile a kernel for it, probably. But I can't use the IRIX compiler probably... maybe I'd need to cross-compile on a different machine? I'm a little lost here.

Part of the reason that I was interested in this machine in the first place was nostalgia for IRIX. That was my first experience with unix at all... Indigos powering the Colorbus Cyclone systems, way back when. So I'd love to be able to do use IRIX. There seems to be a dedicated freeware community - maybe I could find the stuff I need to make a server out of it. Or just have it run SETI@home all the time or something, with a neat screen saver.

Malor, the internal bus speed is what I had been thinking about, too. What applications, aside from graphics or video, would make use of this feature?
posted by dammitjim at 7:54 AM on April 13, 2006

Incidentally, I have also considered stripping it down, and selling the working pieces back on ebay: the memory, the drive, the cpu module - in case the drive is empty when I get it (no IRIX) and I can't manage to get linux working.

Then, I could build a new machine - or a cluster of mini-itx boards or something - inside the case. That might be fun. The case is so neat.
posted by dammitjim at 8:00 AM on April 13, 2006

You could visit and The SGI Zone.. I get the impression that people like running Blender on their SGI's.

I had an Indigo2 at one point, all it did for the first few years was make a 'bong' noise when I powered it up. Eventually I acquired a compatible monitor, and was able to 'experience' IRIX. Five years after paid $500 for it, I gave my purple doorstop away for free.
posted by unmake at 8:12 AM on April 13, 2006

Like I was saying, it would probably make a damn fine server machine, if you put an external drive cage on it, and figured out how to get gigabit ethernet going. With that much bus speed, I'd think it could absolutely tear through most server tasks. You'd probably run Samba, the Unix-native Windows sharing program.

If all you can do is regular Fast Ethernet on it, it'd still be a solid server, but if you could figure out how to hook up a gigE card, I think it'd absolutely scream. I'm not sure it would have enough CPU horsepower to run a very fast RAID5 array, but if you did a RAID10, I'd think it would be faster than most local drives, even running remotely over the network. Whether or not you have any _need_ for such a thing, I couldn't tell you.... but if you work much with video files, that'd be one sweet setup.

This is predicated on you having two processors in the machine. If you have only one.... I'm not sure it would have the muscle to benefit much from gigE. The Wiki article makes it sound like you can put faster processor modules in, so I suppose you could keep an eye peeled to see if any show up on EBay.
posted by Malor at 8:13 AM on April 13, 2006

One more important note... don't sink too much money into that unit. A dual-core 2.8Ghz Pentium D, a server-class board with more bus speed than the Octane, with two gigs of ram, is presently running about $750. I'm running one of those boards now, and it's incredibly fast. As mighty as the Octane was, that Pentium board would run rings around it.

So, by that measure, the SGI is probably worth no more than $200 total... so don't put much money into it. If it's going to turn into a big money-sink, you'd probably be better off with Intel-style hardware, since it supports Linux and the BSDs so nicely.
posted by Malor at 8:19 AM on April 13, 2006

If it's going to turn into a big money-sink, you'd probably be better off with Intel-style hardware

Yeah, I know. I don't want a restoration project, I was just interested in the "kewl toy" factor. There's not a whole lot of payoff to ricing this little guy up. But if I can get a little fun out of it, more the better.
posted by dammitjim at 8:27 AM on April 13, 2006

Keep it and install IRIX on it (if it doesn't come with it pre-installed)

I wouldn't put it on the internet as a server, tho, until you understand the security issues.
IRIX used to come with a bunch of pretty cool applications and some cool graphic stuff. It's actually a fun desktop OS.

You can soil x86 hardware with Linux if you want, but I'd leave IRIX on this and learn as much as you can about it. :-)
posted by drstein at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2006

SGI still links to the version of Quake 2 that was made for IRIX. I used to get phenomenal frame rates on that game when I worked for an oil services company that specialized in SGIs on everyone's desk.

The guy with the big Onyx was bummed, however, as his actual machine was down in the server room, and all he had was the monitor, mouse, and keyboard. He couldn't hear us when we were fragging about.
posted by thanotopsis at 12:52 PM on April 13, 2006

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