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Virtually Real Wonders

By pricing its latest product O2 competitively, Silicon Graphics widens horizons for visual computing

Virtually Real Wonders
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

IT’S time for a price revolution in computers. Silicon Graphics has launched its latest visual computing wonder for prices that seem, well, virtually unreal. The latest dream-come-true for professionals from the company stable, the O2 desktop web-integrated workstation with the first high-performance unified memory architecture and features like advanced 3D graphics, image processing, multimedia and video texture-mapping, costs only under Rs 4 lakh.  "We’ve broken the price barrier," enthuses Ashok Desai, managing director, Silicon Graphics Systems (India) Ltd. "Customers in India can now acquire high-performance workstations at prices comparable to those of PCs. And they need not compromise on technology because of cost constraints." O 2 costs half of what its comparable workstations do and while rival firms’ SCSI (Small Computer System Interface), which connects peripherals such as tape drives, hard disks and scanners to computers, runs at only 20 MB per second, O2 clocks 40 MB. Even at the entry level, O2’s performance is 10 times faster than Silicon Graphics’ Indy workstation, which ranges from Rs 4 lakh to Rs 25 lakh.

Powered by a 64-bit microprocessor, the O workstation comes standard with 32-bit double-buffered graphics and a system bandwidth of 2.1 GB (gigabyte) per second. Nine configurations of O2 are on offer, with a beginning price of Rs 3,97,000 for 32 MB (megabyte) of memory, 180 MHz CPU (central processing unit) and a 1 GB hard disk. Other configurations include 64 MB of memory (expandable to 1 GB) and 2 GB/4 GB hard disk. A 150 MHz system is priced at under Rs 9 lakh and a 175 MHz system will be offered for Rs 11.92 lakh.

O 2 was developed after three years of painstaking research by more than 500 engineers, designers and software developers, 40 per cent of them Indians. Offering about 2,000 applications, O2 can be used by engineers, jewellery and textile designers to make 3D models of products, doctors can see a virtual patient through anatomical simulation, the defence services can use it for battlefield visualisation and mission planning, and the entertainment industry can develop prototypes of hi-tech games in three dimensions. Since it allows collection and storage of data in 3D format, the job of constructing bridges and railway tracks becomes much simpler for the civil engineer.

 With web integration, O < 2 users can communicate their work on the Internet and company intranets. Every O2 system comes bundled with the Netscape Navigator 3.0 for browsing through electronic mail and news, and Netscape Fast Track Server 2.0 for publishing data on the Internet or intranets. 

Most significant among the innovations is the unified memory architecture (UMA) that substantially improves performance. In typical PC architecture, there is the CPU, the motherboard and the PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) expansion cards. For instance, you need a PCI graphics card with memory for a buffer, which allows you to multi-task while data is processing, and memory for texture mapping, which is the computer’s ability to make objects look real. To do that you need to add more memory on the system motherboard and if you want video, you need even more memory.

THE problem with dispensing so much memory around the PCI-based system is that bottlenecks are created as the system attempts to transfer data. In the O 2 version, all memory is stored in a single place which enables the machine to increase speed and save substantially on the cost to the customer. The O2’s memory resides in the main memory where every engine has direct access to it. The other unique feature of O2 is that it is the first low-end workstation that can run every Silicon Graphics’ application.

Says Desai: "The computer creates an environment that is as close to the real world as possible. Take texture mapping, where you take an existing texture and wrap it into an object to bring realism. O 2’s mapping capability brings a new level of realism and interactivity to the desktop. And the flexible unified memory architecture allows an unlimited amount of memory to be allocated for textures." Silicon Graphics’ core competence is innovation by migrating systems from high-end to low-end and O2 is a classic example of this.

Another product line making waves is the Origin family of servers which is based on a revolutionary shared scalable multiprocessor architecture (S 2MP), giving customers the flexibility to add on systems as computing needs grow. With one processor, Origin is priced at under Rs 7 lakh and can grow to 128 processors. Input-output speeds grow from 1.2 GB per second to 80 GB, a feature unparalleled in the industry.

Silicon Graphics machines can be used for designing products ranging from atoms to automobiles to aircraft—Boeing 777 and Tata Sumo are two examples. Worldwide, turnover has grown from $2.4 billion in 1994-95 to $3 billion in 1995-96. The Indian operations’ turnover has grown from Rs 16 crore in 1993-94, its first year, to Rs 41 crore in 1994-95 and Rs 85 crore in 1995-96. Desai is confident that the trend of doubling turnover annually will continue in the current year too. "We would like to create a substantial base for visual computing in India," he adds. That’s a real target.

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