Here you go:
Hi there! :)
Sorry for the delay! I was away over the weekend, a road trip to collect some stuff from
500 miles away, which kinda wiped me out. :D
> I am half-jokingly, half-seriously considering buying a SGI box, most likely an Indigo
> or Indigo2 primarily for the purposes of experimentation and 3D modeling, animating, and
> rendering. Do you know what model and configuration would be a good choice for this? Do
> you have any advice for a first-time purchase of an SGI box?
I guess the first thing to ask is, do you have a preference for any particular system for
aesthetic reasons? I was wondering why Indigo or Indigo2 appealed above others.
Setting aside visuals for the moment, Octane (or Octane2) offers the best value in terms
of raw performance, especially as regards responsiveness for running animation programs
like Maya, but there's no need for a top spec system, even a midrange setup like a 400/V6
will run nicely, or if one isn't bothered about having hardware texture mapping then
stepping down to an SSI or SSE will lower the cost (naturally at the expense of speed).
Octane also has the best expandability and the best value in terms of included RAM
capacity based on cost (ie. larger RAM sizes for other systems are more expensive).
Likewise, even a lower CPU option like an R10K/250 will still feel decently snappy.
Note I did mention value when citing Octane; Fuel can obviously be a faster system, but
it's become too expensive in more recent times, for various reasons (it's mainly continued
commercial demand from PCB manufacturers which still use them).
I'll briefly mention O2; it is a more feature rich machine, with texture mapping and
MJPEG processing included as standard, but its raw 3D performance and fill rate are much
lower than Octane; however, doing video stuff with Octane is a lot more complicated, so
in that sense I guess they compliment each other. The down side of O2 is that a good spec
O2 is expensive, especially something with a decent amount of RAM (which is vital due to
the way O2 functions, ie. its UMA design). O2 is also far less snappy or responsive as
Octane, even if it can keep up with Octane for various synthetic benchmarks, especially
integer tasks like code compilation. For rendering, Octane is way quicker, and of course
can utilise dual CPUs. Some though do like O2 for its low noise output, small footprint
and low power consumption.
Indigo2 can have 3D performance options which overlap the best of the original generation
of gfx options for Octane, ie. MaxIMPACT/TRAM is akin to MXI in Octane, but MaxIMPACT for
Indigo2 is very expensive (and nowadays is a nervy option to have because heat has become
a problem for the continued functionality of IMPACT gfx options, at least High and Max
anyway). For reference, SolidIMPACT in Indigo2 is akin to SI in Octane. Indeed, any
decent gfx option for Indigo2 is rather pricey. Even if price wasn't a factor though, a
bigger issue is system reliability, ie. IMPACT PSUs for Indigo2 are now very flakey. I
intend refurbing some as soon as I can, but until I have some refurbed units available I
would advise caution about getting an IMPACT Indigo2. By which I mean, I have IMPACT
systems that appear to work ok atm, but I have no idea how long their PSUs will last,
and it's best to assume that, unless modded with at least a cap replacement, an IMPACT
PSU will go wrong eventually.
Indigo2 also has older/slower base technologies vs. Octane (Ethernet, SCSI, memory speed,
etc.), but it's certainly popular for other reasons (it's my favourite SGI, perhaps
because the first SGI I ever obtained was an R4K/250 Elan), I'd say just make sure you
understand the differences before deciding. Certainly, an R10K/195 SolidIMPACT would be a
good entry point in general, but it's wise to have realistic expectations, eg. examine my
benchmarks page for performance results using Inventor, Maya, Alias, etc. Or you could
cross over the tech, something I'm actually doing for a guy who asked about Indigo2
recently, ie. he's going for an R10K/195 Extreme; the gfx is slower, and uses the older
IrisGL API, but it's more reliable than IMPACT, and much cheaper - he can always upgrade
later (though ironically due to the different design Extreme is actually not that bad for
wireframe modelling, but it does fall behind SolidIMPACT for shaded mode).
One thing though, the PSU issue with Indigo2 doesn't apply to the original teal version,
so something like an R4K/200 Extreme is very reliable, infact I'd say it's the most
reliable desktop SGI ever made. However, it is of course quite a bit down the relative
performance scale compared to other SGIs, including R10K Indigo2, and especially for
rendering for which R10K is more than twice as fast. Have a look at the Maya and Alias
render results (note that the Alias test is strongly affected by how much L2 cache the
CPU has, whereas the Maya test isn't).
For real-time 3D, but check my Inventor 3D results, see if you can guage what level
of model complexity you want to work with, note which systems can meet said requirement:
If it's more for fun than doing serious productive work, then a system that can cope with
a complexity level somewhere between the SpaceStation model (Test M) and the Underwater
Camera model (Test A) is usually about right. And apologies btw, there are still a number
of configurations I've yet to test, including SolidIMPACT and SI in Indigo2/Octane. Until
recently I was rather tied up with family matters, but this year I should be able to get
back to doing such tests again.
I don't know your budget atm of course, but if a matching Indigo2 IMPACT is too costly
then something like an R10K/250 Octane SSI would be a good alternative. Or if Indigo2 is
a preferred system then an Extreme with whatever CPU (note R10K does have the advantage
of supporting much more RAM, which helps a lot for running hefty programs like Maya).
I would though advise against IRIS Indigo; it's popular for aesthetic reasons but it's
way down the performane stack, while its slower base technologies mean it's even less
responsive than Indigo2, plus it has PSU issues typically worse than IMPACT Indigo2
(working R4K Indigos are expensive because of the PSU). Like Indigo2, I intend refurbing
some PSUs for R4K Indigo when I can, but that will be some weeks or months away.
So I guess it depends where your focus errs, a particular system for aesthetic or other
reasons, or pure performance, or a better upgrade path, or some combination. There is a
lot of crossover between different SGIs in terms of performance, but there are also many
feature differences, especially with systems like O2. Years ago it was a no-brainer to
recommend getting more than one system upfront in order to have a balance of things, eg.
an Octane for modelling plus an O2 to handle video tasks, but these days the system costs
typically preclude buying multiple systems, at least at first anyway.
Please feel free to ask any further questions you may have! It's all a bit of an info
blast at first I know, but a Q&A back & forth helps to narrow down what makes the most
sense for a particular user.
May I ask, where are you in the world? If you're outside the UK then of course shipping
cost is another factor, likewise import duty if you're in the EU. If you happen to be
in the UK though, note I do have a quite ridiculous Onyx2 deskside available. :D Total
overkill and also expensive (lol), but hey, who else will have such a thing for running
Maya? Hehe. :D
Oh, I didn't mention Tezro as I assumed it would be overkill wrt price and performance,
and likewise Indy because really it's not suitable for serious 3D work, like IRIS Indigo
it's just too slow.
One thing though, if you don't much care about cosmetics then I could do a basic O2
pretty cheap, which is one way of getting some initial idea of where you might want to
head next in terms of something more potent.