Machine Design

Fast Graphic System Encourages More Design Reviews

Hook up a high-resolution digital projector to a new fast graphics computer and designers of complex products can conduct more-frequent, detailed, and interactive design reviews.

Fast graphic system encourages more design reviews

Prism computers make it practical for DaimlerChrysler designers to more frequently conduct styling reviews of full sized cars.

The basic Silicon Graphics Prism platform comes with two processors, two graphic pipes, shared memory, and an architecture that allows adding processors and pipes to work in parallel. A fourprocessor unit is available and a 16-processor design is in test.

The Silicon Graphics Prism computer from Silicon Graphics Inc., Mt. View, Calif., ( provides the graphic muscle for such reviews with two standard-based graphic accelerators from ATI, processors from Intel, and the operating system from Linux. The recently added capability lets small design teams spin, zoom, and update million-polygon models — life-size in some cases— in real time.

"One design group of large automotive models had been using a 4-yr-old Reality Center to review rendered models made of many millions of polygons," says Shawn Underwood, SGI salesperson. "The Centers are viewing rooms and equipment intended only for design reviews of complex models for audiences of a dozen or more. But it takes about two weeks to reduce the complexity of a 10 million polygon model and get it ready for viewing. So designs would freeze weeks before a review of an unchangeable model.

The new system, however, lets those conducting the review make model changes on the fly. So when someone suggests trying a different grill or door handle, they're immediately visible," he says.

The computer's architecture also allows sharing-memory with other Prism computers when they are on the same high-speed network. "Shared memory means that data stays put — only pixels move," says Underwood. "The architecture can scale to more processors and graphic pipes. The system starts at two and four are available," says Underwood.

Underwood admits there is not much software written for the Linux OS, yet. But Transitive Corp. Los Gatos, Calif., ( has developed QuickTransit software that lets programs compiled for one processor and operating system run on another processor and operating system without source code or binary changes. It does an on-the-fly translation of Irix (an SGI OS) binaries to the Itanium instruction set. "So engineers will be able to run Irix applications on the Prism. And because the Itanium is faster than MIPS, SGI's proprietary processor, the software runs faster than it did before", he says. Native ports, he adds, will further speed executions.


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