SGI (Silicon Graphics) Indy
The following system (donated by Bill Goldberg) is a WebForce Indy, one of the later models designed for web work. Indy was introduced in 1993 and represented SGI's attempt to introduce a (still expensive) PC-priced system with a very attractive performance and package. From a Sept 1993 article in PCW on the Indy:
The Indy is supplied as standard with 16MB RAM, expandable on the motherboard to 256MB. The motherboard clock is asynchronous from the CPU and runs at 50MHz, giving a throughput of 400MB/sec when accessing RAM and 267MB/sec to the rest of the bus. This compares with a good PC offering 80MB/sec. Throughput is further aided by a 10MB/sec SCSI-2 port.
The processing power runs a close match to the Pentium. It is dangerous to quote the same benchmark for rival processors, but using SPEC statistics supplied by Intel and MIPS, the integer maths figure for the secondary cache R4000 is 57 to the Pentium's 64, and the floating point figure is 61 to the Pentium's 55. Bear in mind that floating point is the Pentium's biggest area of improvement and you can see that the R4000 leaves the 486 standing. These Pentium figures are for the 66MHz version which is still a few months off - it should be available around the same time as the Indy. In the graphics rendering market SGI sees high-end Macs as a rival, but claims 40 times the performance of a machine with a 68030.
Images of our Silicon Graphics INDY (CPU only)
Your curator has a personal story about the Indy. Back in Spring of 1993 I was living and working in Czechoslovakia, running a software lab for my company Elixir Technologies. At that time I took a professor from Charles University Prague on a tour of Silicon Valley looking for support for the modernization of the computer science programs in that formerly Eastern Bloc country. We visited Silicon Graphics' campus courtesy of Harry Rowen of Stanford University (whose son worked at MIPS). Vice President Al Gore (or was it President Bill Clinton?) has just visited and the place was all "pumped up". I remember SGI people hinting at the Indy (which didn't have a product name at the time) and that it was so good it would "replace the PC". I simply shook my head in wonder at the little insular culture SGI represented at the time and how they could really believe this. It seemed that nobody in the Unix community (or Apple for that matter) really understood that while the PC was an "inferior" technology, its openness was then and would always be an indomitable force that no one company could ever withstand. See my commentary on 20 years of the Mac that addresses this here.
Ironically it was only months later (on Jan 27, 1994) that Jim Clark, founder of SGI, tendered his resignation to the company's board of directors. Citing the fact (amongst other reasons) that he felt that SGI would ultimately lose to the PC (having just licensed its OpenGL 3D graphics library and seeing the beginnings of 3D game hardware for DOS and WIndows), Mr. Clarke was ready to move on to greener pastures (he founded what became Netscape later in 1994). In the end, as SGI declined throughout the 90s, starting and then jettisoning the VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) standard, it had to sell off buildings, one of which today houses our friends over at the Computer History Museum. See more about VRML and the virtual worlds medium in my history of the medium here.
Regarding the Silicon Graphics "Indy"
Commentary by Steve "Doc Holliday" McClanahan (ursaarctos at linctel.net)
I saw the Indy at SGI's display at MacWorld the year it was introduced and was captivated. Paticularly by SGI's claim that it could do three dimensional modeling and animation. I was in the market for something to do real time animations for trial exhibits. Besides that, I was just "wowed" by the machine. I had been using Macs since my first 512K "Fat Mac" and was very involved in graphic production and ran a business networking high-end Mac systems in the medical and legal industries.
I purchased a "base" Indy, (it had a 535MB hard drive that would hold little other than the OS), with add-ons that included a magneto-optical "floptical" drive and a SCSI CD-ROM drive. It set me back $10000 if I remember right. I lived in Redding, CA and had to make a three hour drive to Sacramento, CA to pick it up. I was jazzed when I got it.
Being as this was my first introduction to UNIX, I can't really complain about the pain it caused me during the learning process. However, the GUI on it was garbage, in retrospect I realize it was just a souped up version of the X windows environment. That, however, was not the worst part.
After about a month, the machine refused to run any software. Then it refused to boot. I must have reloaded IRIX a hundred times to no avail. Things only got worse when I called SGI for help. They went out of their way to point out they didn't want to support single user installations and pretty much ignored me. Eventually, they did, grudingly, offer some email support, (which was pretty limited, given I had to use the CompuServe gateway because I had no Internet connection). Finally, they sent a technician to my house. He spent four hours trying to make the thing work before finally giving up. Eventually, I just boxed the machine up, sent it back to SGI and they gave me my money back.
To say this was disappointing is an understatement. In theory, the machine was brilliantly conceived. If it had worked as advertised, it would have been a killer. I doubt, given the price, that it ever would have "replaced" the PC - particularly given the temperamental nature of IRIX. Later, I moved on to Sun workstations. They weren't as good for graphics as I expected - the learning curve was a killer - and, despite how much I love Sun workstations, (At one time I had three of them that I used as servers and another I used as a workstation - Sun's customer support is outstanding). I have always had to end up relying on my Macs.
Know anything more about the Indy? Contact us.
The DigiBarn's SGI Indigo
IndyTech, a site for the SGI Indy
Obsolyte's page on the SGI Indy
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