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ATI meets Onyx

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SGI has released a pair of beastly systems to shore up its stronghold in the graphics market and has turned to mainstream graphics card maker ATI to help lower the costs of its kit.

The new star in the SGI line-up is the Onyx4 Ultimate Vision system. The server stretches from a starting price of $45,000 with two R16000A processors to a 64-CPU box that goes into the millions. SGI says the system runs five times faster than old Onyx servers and at one-fifth the cost due in large part to the use of ATI workstation video cards for graphics grunt work.

Along with the new Onxy, SGI has rolled out the one to four processor Tezro workstation, which The Register uncovered last week. The Tezro system ships in a rack-mount configuration as well as a flash, purple tower config.

SGI continues to hammer away on the graphics and high performance computing markets that brought it fame. Its Irix flavor of Unix still hums away and the MIPS chips keep kicking.

When the dot-com bubble burst, SGI executives talked without shame about wanting to hold onto this segment of the server market that was left wheezing on life support. SGI had plenty of customers tied to its architecture, loads of specialised apps for its systems and hundreds of millions in revenue. Apparently, this was enough to keep the brass happy in tough times.

These days, SGI's higher ranks appear a tad more aggressive. No less than three marketeers were enlisted to tell us about the growing need for and availability of high performance systems.

The story is pretty common in the server world. Processors keep improving as components such as graphics cards drop in price while upping their power. These trends open the way for technology such as Beowulf clusters or SGI's systems to creep into the enterprise. As an example, SGI is proud to count the Pringle's potato chip design team as a customer. Don't think animated movies with hundred million dollar budgets; think junk food. The SGI customer is becoming a more common breed, we are told.

It's not clear that SGI can match the success of companies such as Dell that have ridden high-powered Xeon processor-based systems right on into the enterprise. Going the Xeon-cluster route, means customers can benefit from low-cost hardware, the free Linux operating system and ever-improving laws of supply and demand. Still, SGI may well manage to carve out a bigger chunk of the overall market with cheaper components on its side and be able to fend off increased competition from the likes of Sun Microsystems, HP and IBM.

Confidence aside, it must be disconcerting to be compared daily to DEC.

The new Onyx4 systems will ship in three basic flavors. The first model has between two and eight processors and is targeted at users that need more power than a workstation can offer. A second config will hold between eight and 16 CPUs and be aimed at handling shared workloads spread across several users. The big daddy config ships with between 16 and 64 processors and is for those with the highest of computational needs.

A reliable reader says that faster R18000 chips should arrive this fall and have close to four times the performance of the R16000 chips shipping with the new kit. SGI declined to confirm such chatter.

The Tezro workstation will ship as predicted with one, two our four processors. SGI claims it performs 3 times as well as the previous Octane2 system. A two-processor box starts around $28,000. ®

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