SGI's flagship graphic workstation until November 2000 when the Octane2 was released (Really just a graphics upgrade), before that the Indigo2 was SGI's main workstation. Octanes are extremely capable machines (Although the inital Octanes had some issues that caused them to crash.) and their technology is based on that of SGI's Origin supercomputers. Despite only being made as remanufactured systems, they have been used in almost every movie lately that has employed computer graphics in some way, including Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

Originally, the Octanes used the same cards as the IMPACT graphics in Indigo2s, only renamed as SI (Solid IMPACT), SI with texture (High IMPACT), SSI, MXI (Maximum IMPACT). Later, the IMPACT graphics were improved and became SE, SE with texture, SSE, and MXE. Along with the graphics upgrade, the Octanes were upgraded from 175MHz and 195Mhz R10000s to 225MHz R10Ks and eventually R12Ks.

As mentioned above, the Octane uses technology from SGI's high-end supercomputers. The main feature of this is the Crossbar memory system. There is no bus on the Octane. What exists instead is a 8-port-no-blocking-high-speed crossbar switch. This is the exact same thing found in the Origins with minor modifications and allows the Octane to have a maximum of 1.6GB/s transfer rate. It also uses 3 proprietory XIO slots and additionally, can have 3 PCI64 slots added.

The SGI Octane, and its exceedingly similar successor, the SGI Octane2, were produced by Silicon Graphics between 1997 and 2004. They were SGI's upper-midrange workstation offerings, slotted between the low-end SGI O2 and the high-end deskside SGI Onyx2. In many ways, the Octane was a scaled-down version of the Onyx2 or Origin, using a non-blocking crossbar switch architecture, called XIO. The Octane and Octane2 differ primarily in their power supply and the main XIO switch chip, called XBOW, with the Octane2 having a newer XBOW revision. There's also one cosmetic difference - the Octane has a teal case with the older SGI "cube" logo, while the Octane2's case is blue with the newer stylized "sgi" logo.

Specifications

  • Production dates: 1997-2004.
  • Application architecture: MIPS4
  • Processor: 1 or 2 MIPS processors. R10000, R12000 and R14000 modules exist. The IP30 motherboard module takes a single CPU module, which can have either one or two MIPS processors. R10000s were produced in 195, 200, 225 and 250 MHz versions. R12000s exist in 300, 350, 400 and 500 MHz versions, while R14000s exist in 500 and 600 MHz variants.
  • RAM: 8 DIMMs, up to 8GB. Older-revision motherboards can only use 2GB. Although all Octane2 systems have the newer motherboard, many standard Octanes do, too.
  • Graphics: Either of two series of XIO graphics cards. The Octanes came with the first series, called MGRAS (for Mardi Gras). These are essentially XIO versions of the IMPACT graphics options for the SGI Indigo2. The Octane2 shipped with the later VPro graphics options, which were also used in the SGI Fuel and SGI Tezro.
    • MGRAS Graphics options:

      All MGRAS cards are single-wide. Options with 2 GEs are double-high.
    • SI (Solid IMPACT) - 1 geometry engine, no texture memory
    • SI+T (High IMPACT - 1 GE, 4MB of texture RAM
    • SSI (double Solid IMPACT) - 2 GEs, no TRAM
    • MXI (Maximum IMPACT) - 2 GEs, 4MB of TRAM
    • SE (enhanced SI) - 1 fast GE, no TRAM
    • SE+T (enhanced SI+t) - 1 fast GE, 4MB TRAM
    • SSE (enhanced SSI) - 2 fast GEs, no TRAM
    • MXE (enhanced MXI) - 2 fast GEs, 4MB TRAM
    • VPro Graphics options:

      All VPro cards are double-wide, single high
    • V6 - 32MB combined framebuffer and TRAM (up to 8MB as TRAM). Faster geometry processing than SSE/MXE.
    • V8 - 128MB combined framebuffer and TRAM (up to 104MB TRAM). Same geometry performance as V6
    • V10 - essentially a V6 with double geometry performance.
    • V12 - a V10 with 128MB of RAM (up to 104MB as TRAM).

  • Supported multihead options: multiple MGRAS or VPro options. Mixing generations is not supported. 2 MXI/MXE cards is generally not recommended for cooling reasons, but does work. Triple or quad SI/SE or SI+T/SE+T is supported.
  • Hard Drives: 3 bays for Ultra320 SCSI disks. 9, 18, 36, 73, 146 and 300GB capacities available, larger disks supported.
  • Audio capabilities: 24-bit, 96000kHz professional audio system. Analog output, digital AES and ADAT optical input and output. RCA and phono jacks for analog input and output.
  • Expansion:
    • 4 XIO slots
    • 3 64-bit/66MHz PCI slots available with the PCI Shoebox, which is an XIO to PCI bridge that fits into a dedicated slot.
  • External ports:
    • 2 PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse
    • 2 RS422 high-speed serial ports, DB9 male (460kbps maximum)
    • 1 RJ45 Fast Ethernet port
    • 1 68 pin Ultra80 SCSI port

What the Octane can do

The SGI Octane is still capable of most any desktop productivity, science or engineering task you might want to put it to. Many special effects houses still use Octanes for the majority of their work. Whether you're designing gas turbine engines, coding a video game, modeling weapons effects, prospecting for oil and gas or just noding, the Octane can do it, and do it well.

So, what operating systems can it run?

The Octane can run IRIX, Linux and NetBSD, though if you want to use it for graphics, you'll want to use IRIX. While there are 2D graphics drivers for the MGRAS series of cards under Linux, there's no 3D, and the Vpro cards don't work at all. Linux is a nice choice for the experimenter, but IRIX is still the best choice for doing any real work on the Octane.

Finding one, and how much you should expect to pay.

Octanes and Octane2s have prices all over the board on the used market. This is in large part due to the large range of configurations available: a low-end Octane is only about even with a top-range Indigo2, while a top-end Octane2 competes with a low-end Tezro. A single-processor R10k at 195MHz, with 256MB of RAM, a 9GB disk and SI graphics will probably not cost more than about $75, while a maxed-out dual R14k at 600MHz, 8GB of RAM, 3 146GB disks and dual V12 graphics, with the PCI shoebox will probably cost upwards of $2500. That said, even a bottom-range Octane can usually be upgraded to near-top specs with some care, and upgrade parts aren't always expensive. The most expensive upgrade bits currently are V12 graphics cards and R14k CPU modules (especially dual-CPU versions), but for only a modest step down in performance, V6/8/10 graphics and dual R12k CPU modules can be had quite reasonably, and MGRAS cards are downright cheap.

Notes

Rather like the Indigo2, the Octane has two major variations - the teal-cased Octane and the blue-cased Octane2. There are, however, some oddballs. In particular, the last run of Octanes have a blue case, and are physically identical to the Octane2, except that they lack the "2". Internally, they are Octane2 machines, except that they shipped with MGRAS graphics instead of VPro. Also, none of these blue Octanes were sold with R14k CPUs - but thanks to upgrading, a fair few of them are floating around with VPro cards or R14k processors in them anyway. Similar upgrade shenanigans and part-swapping are responsible for the plethora of thoroughly weird Octane configurations floating around the second-hand market. It's not uncommon to find teal-cased Octanes with R12k or R14k processors and VPro graphics, or Octane2s with R10k processors (which they were never sold with) and MGRAS graphics. Although SGI claims that VPro graphics cards will only work right with the newer power supply and later-revision XBOW chips (specifically v1.3 for V6 and V8, and v1.4 for V10/V12), testing in the field shows that parts are almost freely interchangeable. It does, however, seem to be necessary to have one of the new-revision motherboards to support R14k processors, and the newer power supply is highly recommended for dual VPro graphics configurations (or dual MXE).

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