SGI launches Linux-based visual computer line

Silicon Graphics (SGI) has launched the successor line to its Onyx visualization systems. Called Prism, the systems will be based on Intel's Itanium 2 processor and the Linux operating system.

Like the Onyx systems, the Prism line is designed for use for advanced visual computing problems like oil exploration, crash simulation, or medical research. They will also use the same ATI Technologies graphics accelerators and NUMAflex shared memory architecture as SGI's MIPS-based systems.

The Prism line, which has begun shipping over the last few months, will come in configurations of between two and 512 Itanium 2 processors and will support as many as 16 graphics accelerators, also called "pipelines." Pricing on the systems will start at US$30,000, approximately US$10,000 less than comparable entry-level Onyx systems, said Shawn Underwood, director of marketing for visual systems at SGI.

SGI will also port a number of its developer tools, including OpenGL Performer and OpenGL Volumizer to Linux, but not all applications will be ported. SGI expects customers to use virtualization technology from a Los Gatos, California, company called Transitive to run some Irix binaries natively on the Prism systems, Underwood said.

SGI's decision to launch graphics processing systems based on Itanium comes just weeks after HP decided to drop its line of Itanium workstations, citing poor demand.

The two products served very different types of users, Underwood said. "For HP, 5,000 units a year is a reason to exit the market," he said. "And for us, 5,000 units a year is a reason to enter the market."

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