Choosing between SGI and Sun - SUMMARY

From: Stephen Oakes (
Date: Sun Nov 21 1993 - 16:14:59 CST

Thanks to all those who responded to my question about which system
would be best for doing 3D graphics. The results are below.
With one exception, they all favoured the SGI machine. The exception didn't
really favour either, but merely pointed out the differences in environment.

Anyway, here are the results, reprinted without permission. Most of these
were received by e-mail, but a few at the end appeared in the news groups.
I have edited out headers and echoes of my original article, (and names have
been removed to protect the biased :-), but responses have not been touched.
My comments appear in [brackets].

Howdy Stephen
   I think you also have to throw in expandable on the SGI side also
I've been working with and building both SGI and SUN computers since
1988. Since about 1990 the SGI's are easier to expand with third party
devices. Significantly easier.


If you want to do 3-D graphics with real-time animation,
you HAVE TO go with SGI. I have used HP700, Sun Sparc,
DEC ALPHA, even thoght all has raw MIPS power, I have my
hands tighed when I have trying to do some decent 3-D
graphics (I write my own X-window base raytracing program
which runs on HP700, Sun Sparc, so if that's kind of 3-D
graphics you want, might SUn will do. But I aslo wrote prgrams
to ro real-time vritual reality tour of radiosity room, or
Solid modeling for mechanical part etc on the SGI. It's all
up to the numbers of polygona/sec you need for your graphics...


   I would NOT concider a Sun 'expandable'. Sun's are about the slowest
computers around these days. SGI's will compute circles around a Sun.
The best thing I'd do is to get an SGI for a week or two for evaluation.
Run some applications on it and see it run a Sun into the ground.
   I used to wish for a Sun of my own, now I wont even look at them.
Sun has lost it and I really don't see them catching up any time soon.


in terms of writing your own 3D apps, most people have been there done that
on SGI's and there is lots of free advice AND code/apps around.

video i/o for you to make nice films of your work for your boss to impress
his/her clients/funders :-)

get into SGI as soon as you can because their machines along with OpenGl
are leading the field and are here to stay. (JMHO :-)

[suns are]
easy to merge with your existing network. I "hear" SGI's are a real bitch
to add into a network of Suns in terms of NFS etc... but _not_ impossible.

with no previous admin skills i had our Indigo under control in no time,
very nice machines.



I have used both SGI's and SUN'S, (althogh I've never used a Sparc 10)
and it has always been my experience that the Sun's are just plain in
adequate for doing interactive 3D work. My experience has been that
trying to do an interactive 3D rotation of shaded or even complex wire
frames models is slow, jumpy and awkward. I understand that the Sparc 10
is a great deal faster than the Sparcs I've used, but for me SGI's history
of performance and growth speaks very loudly. Also, SGI has recently
put a great deal of effort into making their newer machines much more
expandable. IMHO SGI's are the only way to go.

Hope it helps.


One aspect to consider in the "cost" calculation is programming time.
I've used the XGL graphics library on the SUN, and found it very
difficult and frustrating to use. I've wasted countless hours trying to
decipher their incomplete manuals and attempting to do things that
existed in SGI graphics years ago (but don't exist in XGL).


A site I contract to bought an SGI to run a large application. They
chose it cos the application's developers told us that the Indigo2
Extreme runs the app twice as fast as the Sparc 10/41. They are also
interested in 3D visualisation, which is another plus for the SGI.

We had no difficulty integrating the SGI into our Sun network.

P.S. Since it was the first SGI into a Sun shop, both SGI and Sun tried
*very* hard - I believe SGI dropped their price substantially (i.e.
somewhere around the price of the Sparc 10) just to get the machine
through the door. You may be able to get a substantial reduction from
either vendor by playing them off against each other.

If it was me, and the application was available, I would go with SGI
too. But please note my disclaimer below!

[his disclaimer!]
for a in past present future; do
        for b in clients employers associates relatives neighbours pets; do
echo The opinions in this article in no way reflect the opinions of my $a $b.


Here are some of my opinions (not necessarily those of my employer):

Sun's graphics libraries SUCK. The IRIS GL is *MUCH* easier to use.
Sun's Open Windows interface is unique to Sun. SGI's Motif-like
    interface is just like everybody else's (with some other bells and
Solaris 2 is a joke. Some people say the same about IRIX 5, however...
In my experience, the salespeople at Sun are much harder to deal with
    than SGI salespeople.
The SGI cc compiler is much better than anything Sun has to offer.
The SGI manages the data cache much better than a Sun does. Our numerical
   applications perform much better on SGI platforms than equivalent
   Sun platforms because we code for good cacheing, and the SPARC's
   cacheing mechanism is a mystery to the world.

That's what I can think of for now. Sun is one of my least-favorite
companies, so I always like opportunities to bash them.


A friend of mine, a sys mugger at UNBC.EDU just got his hands on a
new SGI machine and here is what he had to say. Ingore the
spelling mistakes, we do this on purpose :-)

He does sound convinced!

Date: Thu, 11 Nov 1993 01:35:08 -0700
From: Lyndon Nerenberg <>
Subject: I Have SEEN The Light!
To: "NeXT Weenies (and Friends)" <>,,
Message-ID: <>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
Status: OR

Well boyz and girlz, after a last futile attempt at getting NeXTsLoP
running on a 486 I have put said 486 back in a box and decided to buy a
Real Computer (TM).

See, this here Indy workstation shewed up last week. I'm not sure what
exactly sold me on it. Was it the Mot 56K DSP chip that lets me play CD's
via a straight digital path from the CD to the DAC's sitting right in
front of the audio amp? Was it the built in CCD color camera - just primed
for making home movies? (Stay tuned to
for details.) Maybe it wuz the four-track digital studio-in-software? Howz
about the "here's the one hardcopy manual that explains how to apply power
- all the rest of the documentation is online in hypertext format with
graphics" idea? Or was it the networked multi-user air battle game? Or the
copy of SimCity on the HotMix5 CD? Don't forget the 100 MHz R4000 CPU!

It certainly can't be the CAN$6K (list) price tag. (Or the 25% university

Did I mention the 1280 X 1024 X 256 frame buffer and 17 inch monitor?

Death to Intel! Death to Intel! Death to -- oops, gotta run to my
appointment with the banker :-)


1) The Indigo2 Extreme will probably blow most Sun's out of the water.
2) It's been my experience that once people get a taste of 3D graphics
performance, they want more. With SGI, you can always spend more cash
and get *the* highest performance graphics and a high-end CPU.

my 2 cents.


Dump the SPARC 10. It's not good for much.

Or -- get a slightly lesser SGI... maybe an Indy or an Indigo2
without the extreme graphics. Anyway, the indigo2 will outperform
pretty much any SS10 with everything. Also, if you want to do
graphics, get the SGI. Although you can get reasonable graphics
ability in Suns now, there's really no support for it.

They're neat and fast. :) ? I wish I could be more helpful...


It is true that the SUN is more expandable mut in no case it is
cheaper. The machine itself maybe, but the graphics card is not!
I wanted to buy a accelerator card for SUN, but for 3D graphics
there are not many alternatives. The ZX card from SUN only if you
are willing to run Solaris 2.x. A card from Evands&Sutherland beyond
30 k$. And finaly (do you know some more?) a card from Dupont which
uses the GL libs from SGI ....

If you can choose, I would take the SGI



Hi Steven!

Well speaking as an animator... the ONLY choice is the SGI. We have a
R4000 Crimson Extreme (same GFX as Indigo 2) and it is great to work with.

As for expanability... you have a point. The Indigo 2 is quite limited
in space which is why I chose the Crimson (full size ONYX type box). But
I get the impression that Crimson is reaching the end of its production
life. They need something current that is between Indigo 2 and ONYX.

But I'll stress again... I challenge ANY computer to SGI for graphics
performance. They are over priced and cocky... but with good reason.

If I can offer any specific information let me know!


You really will have to decide for yourself. But some things to be on
the lookout for (since these will/can affect productivity):

        -- keyboard (can be "fixed" using xmodmap and/or xkeycaps)

        -- xdm/chooser (if you come in via X terminals)

        -- the SysV-ish flavor of SGI (I have no axes to grind, but for
           someone used to SunOS, the changes can be frustrating; note I
           use both, so I'm only alerting you to something YOU have to

        -- Motif vs. OpenWindows. Again, a personal choice, and something
           that ostensibly will go away under COSE (but not today).

Personally, I'd recommend you get a loaner of both types of systems and see
which runs YOUR apps best, for this is what really matters.


: -- the SysV-ish flavor of SGI (I have no axes to grind, but for
: someone used to SunOS, the changes can be frustrating; note I
: use both, so I'm only alerting you to something YOU have to
: determine).

Of course, Solaris 2, now the OS shipping on SPARC 10, is System V as well...

: -- Motif vs. OpenWindows. Again, a personal choice, and something
: that ostensibly will go away under COSE (but not today).

And of course, now OpenWindows is really Motif - or at least will be in a few
months if not right now.


Well, the Indigo2 will be upgradable to the TFP and RE graphics sometime next
summer (according to our sales rep). I'd say that would blow away anything
Sun could give you.

I don't remember too many realtime extensions in Sun's old UNIX; maybe Solaris
is better, but IRIX seems to be more efficient and responsive. All we do
here is realtime, and we use SGIs (for graphics).


| Well, the Indigo2 will be upgradable to the TFP and RE graphics sometime next
| summer (according to our sales rep). I'd say that would blow away anything
| Sun could give you.

TFP, perhaps/probably. RE, absolutely not!

There will be some new high end graphics at some point for the midrange
systems like Indigo2, and it will very likely go into Indigo2, but
there are no commitments I know of for dates or functionality. It might
well have some RE features, but certainly it won't be RE or any adaptation

| Stephen Oakes      CSIRO Division of Building, Construction and Engineering |
|                    Post Office Box 56, Highett, Victoria, Australia   3190  |
| Internet:  Tel: +61 3 252 6000 Fax: +61 3 252 6249 |

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