Hot graphics, blinding speed give SGI workstation oomph

Hot graphics, blinding speed give SGI workstation oomph

By Carlos A. Soto

GCN Staff

The Silicon Graphics 230 is more a workhorse than a workstation.

Weighing in at 29 pounds and measuring 8.25 by 19.25 by 19.25 inches, the hefty system would be good to have around if your agency handles graphics-intensive or speed-hungry tasks. But the 230's not perfect.

Taking apart the chassis to get inside the SGI machine was easy. Putting it back together was another story.

Box Score
Silicon Graphics 230

High-end graphics workstation

SGI; Mountain View, Calif.;
tel. 650-933-7777

Price: $2,400

+ Fast, striking graphics

' No Win9x drivers


Features and configuration'''''''''A'

Benchmark performance'''''''''''A

'''Ziff-Davis Winstone 200041.1 About 320% faster than a 233-MHz Pentium MMX

The overall grade comprises scores for three factors: usability (60 percent), features and configuration (20 percent), and performance (20 percent). The lab used ZD's Winstone 2000. The baseline for 10.0 Winstone units is a 233-MHz Pentium MMX. For benchmark information, go to

I noticed scratches on the corners of the metal frame, as if someone before me had had trouble reconnecting the side panel to the workstation's chassis.

The interior was well organized, with plenty of room to upgrade the 20G 7,200-rpm Seagate Barracuda hard drive, the 48X CD-ROM drive and the 256M of error-correcting-code synchronous dynamic RAM.

The Silicon Graphics 230 looks and performs rather like a server, but it delivers far better graphics. It has an SGI VR7 video card based on the nVidia chip set. The VPro graphics subsystem accepts up to 64M of double-data-rate RAM on the video card.

What that means is the 4X Accelerated Graphics Port card can process at a rate twice as fast as regular RAM and can cache up to 64M, independent of the ECC RAM on the motherboard. The doubling effect lets the video card render up to 540 megapixels per second.

There's 32K of Level 1 cache and 256K of Level 2 cache on the SGI motherboard, a 133-MHz front-side bus and a 33-MHz PCI bus, two serial ports, a parallel port and two Universal Serial Bus ports.

The 230 has plenty of ventilation: a fan on the video card plus fans for the power supply and the 933-MHz Pentium III processor, and the largest fan of all at the back of the machine.

Originally developed for 3-D computer-aided design, the Silicon Graphics 230 performed on the GCN Lab's Ziff-Davis benchmark suite more than three times as fast as a baseline 233-MHz Pentium MMX system.

Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and Red Hat Linux 6.1 come preinstalled. Don't try installing Microsoft Windows 98 on it, however. Even though the operating system will work, you won't find any drivers for the SGI hardware.

For $2,400, I would have expected Win98 drivers. Apparently the reason for their absence is that Win98 does not handle memory as efficiently as NT or Linux, so it could drag down graphics performance.

SGI plans to make Windows 2000 the standard Windows OS for later editions of the workstation.

If you need speed on the desktop for applications beyond basic office automation, the Silicon Graphics 2300 is a contender.

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