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SGI Indy

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SGI Indy

SGI Indy
Manufacturer Silicon Graphics Incorporated
Introduced July 12, 1993
Discontinued June 30, 1997
Processor R4000, R4400, R4600 or R5000
Frequency 100 MHz
Memory 16 or 32 MB (up to 256MB maximum)
Dimensions 41 cm × 36 cm × 8 cm

The Indy, code-named "Guinness", is a low-end workstation introduced on July 12, 1993. Developed and manufactured by Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI), it is the result of the company's attempt to obtain a share of the low-end computer-aided design (CAD), desktop publishing, and multimedia markets. It was discontinued on June 30, 1997 and support ended on December 31, 2011.[1]


  • Hardware 1
    • Processors 1.1
    • Graphics 1.2
      • 8-bit XL 1.2.1
      • 24-bit XL (XGE) 1.2.2
      • XZ 1.2.3
    • Video 1.3
    • Storage 1.4
    • Networking 1.5
  • SGI Challenge S 2
  • SGI timeline 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


The Indy is one of the smaller form factors for the time (41 cm × 36 cm × 8 cm). The sturdy, electric-blue colored "pizza box" chassis is comparable to a small desktop PC from the same era, and is intended to fit underneath a large CRT monitor. It is the first computer to include a digital video camera, and is based upon a then-forward-looking architecture including an onboard ISDN adapter. Designed for multimedia use, the Indy includes analog and digital I/O, SCSI, and standard composite and S-Video inputs.

At the beginning of its production timeline, the Indy came with 16MB of RAM as standard. IRIX 5.1, the first operating system for the Indy, does not take full advantage of the hardware due to inadequate memory management. SGI realized this and soon increased the base specification to 32 MB, at considerable cost. Subsequent IRIX releases make huge improvements in memory usage. The latest release of IRIX available for the Indy workstations is 6.5.22.

One option for the Indy is a floptical drive. The floptical uses 21 MB disks, but is able to read and write standard magnetic floppies as well.


Indy's motherboard has a socket for the Processor Module (PM). Early Indys use a 100 MHz MIPS R4000PC microprocessor. The Indy, at the bottom of SGI's price list, was then upgraded with the MIPS R4400 and the low-cost, low-power-consumption Quantum Effect Devices (QED) R4600. The R4600 has higher integer performance, but lesser floating-point capability. The R4600 appears outside the Indy line just once, and only briefly, in the SGI Indigo². This series of microprocessor issues, along with the relatively low-powered graphics boards, lower maximum RAM amount, and relative lack of internal expansion ability compared to the SGI Indigo led to the Indy being pejoratively described amongst industry insiders as "An Indigo without the 'go'."

As the R4600 chip itself has no L2 cache controller, an external controller is used to add 512K of L2 cache. R4600s processor modules, both with an L2 cache (SC) and without (PC), have been produced for the Indy. At the same clock rate, the SC version of the processor module is generally 20 to 40 percent faster than the PC version, due to the memory cache.

The Indy is also the first SGI machine to utilize the QED R5000 microprocessor, which offers significant advantages over the R4400 and R4600 it replaced.


Three graphics subsystems have been produced for the Indy: 8-bit XL, 24-bit XL, and 24-bit XZ. Each support a maximum resolution of 1280 × 1024 pixels at a refresh rate of 76 Hz, and have a 13W3 monitor connection. Graphics options are connected to the system using a GIO32bis bus.

8-bit XL

Also known as "Newport" graphics and based on the REX3 chipset, these were designed for general 2D X11 applications; no hardware 3D acceleration is included. This is the first accelerator to demonstrate object-based antialiasing and sub-pixel exact Bresenham lines.

24-bit XL (XGE)

Using an identical circuit board as the 8-bit XL, the 24-bit XL includes three times as much framebuffer memory to accommodate 24-bit color.

In an Indy with an R5000 CPU, these graphics options are called XGE, because an R5000 CPU can perform 3D geometry calculations faster than the XZ subsystems's four Geometry Engines. As a result, all 3D is done in software. The situation is, however, reversed when the calculations are done for full-screen rendering and involve z-buffer operations (which XL does not possess). XZ graphics are rarely paired with the R5000 for this reason.


These graphics are a port of the Indigo²'s XZ (Elan) graphics into Indy. They offer very good non-textured 3D performance at the time, sacrificing a bit of 2D performance in return. The XZ graphics option has not been popular in Indy systems that used the R5000 CPU. This was mostly due to extensions of the MIPS instruction set that is implemented in the R5000. With the new instructions, the R5000 CPU can perform coordinate transformations faster than the XZ graphics board. However, using XZ to perform coordinate transforms does free the CPU to perform other rendering-related calculations. If the application is not transform-limited (i.e. limited by the speed of coordinate transformation), then the XZ option can provide significant rasterization performance advantages over the XL boards. These graphics take the form of two boards, one on top of the other, and block both GIO option slots, making them less favorable since options such as 10/100 Ethernet and JPEG compression boards cannot be installed.


The Indy is the first SGI to have video inputs by default. Each Indy has an amateur quality composite, S-Video, and digital video input built into the motherboard, which collectively are known as "Vino" (video input, no output) video. The digital input is a proprietary D-sub connector with a rectangular array of pins, and is used by the SGI IndyCam. The connector is the same as serial ports on Cisco routers, however is electrically different.

The maximum supported input resolution is 640×480 (NTSC) or 768×576 (PAL). A fast machine is required to capture at either of these resolutions, though; an Indy with slower R4600PC CPU, for example, may require the input resolution to be reduced before storage or processing. However, the Vino hardware is capable of DMAing video fields directly into the framebuffer with minimal CPU overhead.

None of the Indys support a video output by default; that would require the Indy Video GIO32 card. Additionally, there is an optional module called CosmoCompress, which offers on-the-fly JPEG video compression and decompression and uses up another GIO32 slot.


The Indy has two drive bays for 1-inch tall 3.5" drives. The upper drive bay is externally accessible and may hold a SCSI floptical drive. All external and internal drives share a single Fast SCSI bus (unless a GIO32 SCSI card has been installed).

External CD-ROM drives connect via SCSI connector at the rear side of the box. The typical drive supports boot, OS install, audio. A special ROM is required to boot from for certain device types.[2] A small number of CD-ROM drives have the firmware needed to do audio over SCSI.


All Indys shipped with AUI/10BASE-T Ethernet and ISDN as standard equipment. The Ethernet ports are half-duplex only. The 10BaseT port takes precedence over the AUI port; if the system detects a carrier on both ports, it will use the 10Base-T.

Two different manufacturers produced 100BASE-TX Ethernet cards compatible with the Indy, both of which attached to the system using the GIO32 bus. Set Engineering produced one such fast Ethernet card, based on the Texas Instruments ThunderLAN chipset, under contract with SGI. Phobos also produced models of fast Ethernet cards for the Indy (the G100 and G130).

The ISDN port provided on the Indy has no NT1. An external NT1 is required to use the ISDN port in North America.

SGI Challenge S

SGI Challenge S in a rack

SGI released a variant of the Indy for low-end server usage. The SGI Challenge S has an identical case as the Indy (except for the name badge), and featured a nearly identical motherboard as the Indy, but without any graphics or sound hardware.[3] Interestingly, there are still volume control buttons on the front of the Challenge S, but they are not connected to anything. The Challenge S comes with an ISDN port standard. Also included is a 10Mbit/s AUI Ethernet port. All local administration is performed by serial console to one of the two DIN-8 serial ports (either one can be used to reach the PROM prompt and uses the same pin-out found on Macintosh modem/printer ports).

SGI timeline


  1. ^ End of Support Product Matrix
  2. ^ Archived April 14, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ SGIstuff - Challenge S Archived November 26, 2013 at the Wayback Machine

External links

  • [2]
  • Reputable Systems
  • IP22 - LinuxMIPS
  • : Hardware : Systems : Indy / Challenge S
  • SGI Indy / Silicon Graphics R4000 Architecture
  • Remotely installing SGI IRIX 6.5 from a GNU/Linux server
  • NetBSD/sgimips for Indy & Challenge S
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