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Tech site reveals SGI's new workstations

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Despite SGI's best efforts, full details of the workstations the company intends to launch on Monday have finally escaped, and the Ars Technica site has published an ecstatic review. The machines, the Visual Workstation 320 and 540, will come in at under $4,000 and - according to Ars Technica - do a good job of translating SGI technology to the NT workstation market, and coming up with something unique. The 320, the entry level model, is a single or twin Pentium II 350-450MHz machine, while the 540 can take up to four 450MHz Xeons. They both include several SGI technologies that have been evolved in order to produce something a cut above 'me too' NT workstations. IVC, Integrated Visual Computing Architecture, is a development of Unified Memory Architecture (UMA), which integrates memory, CPU, network, audio, graphics and disk into a single unit. This allows the SGI Cobalt Graphics chipset to use system RAM as video RAM, so it makes the whole box cheaper without degrading performance. The Lithium chip meanwhile functions as a sort of router for the bus system, operating rather like a crossbar switch and reducing bus bottlenecks. The Cobalt chipset is entirely SGI designed, and optimises performance for OpenGL and GDI under NT, and enables multi-processor rendering and dynamic allocation assignment of graphics memory in system memory. Another chip, Arsenic, gives the frame buffer continuous DMA, and allows for flat panel connections. Ars Technica reckons that the combination of all this puts SGI clearly in the lead in NT workstation technology. "SGI has managed to re-engineer the inside of the box to remove the bottlenecks that other manufacturers are trying to build around," says Ars Technica. "SGI… has managed to create enough differentiation… to effectively compete against their competitors in a market that is completely foreign to their roots: a low-margin, high volume market." Seems it's a hit then, but considering how touchy SGI has been about pre-release info, it's a puzzle how Ars Technica got hold of the gear… ®

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