Retro Rebuild Recreates SGI Workstation Demos On The Go

When [Lawrence] showed us the Alice4 after Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend it wasn’t apparent how special the system was. The case is clean and white, adorned only with a big red button below a 7″ screen with a power switch around the back. When the switch is flicked the system boots to display a familiar animation and drops you at a menu. Poking around from here elicits a variety of self-contained graphics demos, some interactive. So this is a Raspberry Pi in a box playing videos, right? Not even close.

Often retro computing focuses on personal computer systems. When they were new the 8-bit graphics or intricate 2D sprites were state of the art, but now their appeal tends towards learning opportunities and the thrill of nostalgia. This may still be true of Alice4, the system [Brad, Lawrence, Mike, and Chris] put together to run Silicon Graphics (SGI) demos from the mid 1980’s but it’s not the whole story. [Lawrence] and [Brad] had both worked at SGI during its heyday and had fond memories of the graphics demos that shipped with those mammoth workstation. So they built Alice4 from the FPGA up to run those very same demos in real-time.

Thanks to Moore’s law, today’s embedded systems put yesterday’s powerhouses within reach. [Lawrence] and [Brad] found the old demo code in a ratty FTP server, and tailor-made Alice4’s software and hardware to run them natively. [Brad] wrote a libgl which implements the subset of the IrisGL API needed to support their selected set of demos. The libgl emits sets of triangles to the SDRAM where [Lawrence’s] HDL running on the onboard FPGA fetches them to interpolate color and depth and draw the result on-screen. Together they allow the $99 Altera Cyclone V development board at Alice4’s heart to run these state of the art demos in the palm of your hand.

Alice4 is open source and extensively documented. Peruse the archeology of reverse engineering the graphics API or the discussion of FIFO design in the FPGA. If those don’t sate your appetite check out a video of Alice4 in action after the break.

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Hackaday Links: June 12, 2012

Amazing 3D rendering in real-time

Ah, the 90s. A much simpler time when the presenters on Bad Influence! were amazed by the 3D rendering capabilities of the SGI Onyx RealityEngine2. This giant machine cost £250,000 back in the day, an amazing sum but then again we’re getting nostalgic for old SGI hardware.

Well, Mega is taken… let’s call it Grande

[John Park] needed to put something together for last month’s Maker Faire. A comically large, fully functional Arduino was the obvious choice. If you didn’t catch the demo last month, you can grab all the files over on Thingiverse.

Is that an atomic clock in your pocket or… oh, I see.

Here’s the world’s smallest atomic clock. It’s made for military hardware, so don’t expect this thing to show up at Sparkfun anytime soon; we can’t even fathom how much this thing actually costs. Still, it’ll be awesome when this technology trickles down to consumers in 10 or 20 years.

Converting a TRS-80 keyboard to USB

[Karl] is working on an awesome project – putting a Raspberry Pi inside an old TRS-80. The first part of the project – converting a TRS-80 keyboard to USB – is already complete. We can’t wait to see this build finished.

 A DIY Propeller dev board

Last week we complained about the dearth of builds using the Parallax Propeller. A few noble tinkerers answered our call and sent in a few awesome builds using this really unique micro. [Stefan]’s Propeller One is the latest, and looking at the schematics it should be possible to etch a single-sided board for this project. Awesome work and thanks for giving us a weekend project, [Stefan].

SGI 10,000 Core Concept

sgi

In a bold move, Silicon Graphics has decided to see how much crap many cores they can shove in one box. The Molecule is 10,000 core rackmount machine designed to leverage low cost consumer CPUs like the Intel Atom. It emphasizes high memory bandwidth and throughput between CPUs. While this sort of space efficiency is interesting it’s certainly going to take some serious cooling to get designs like this off the ground.

[via Hacked Gadgets]

Mark Hoekstra Has Passed Away

UPDATE: His personal site has been updated.

It was with great sadness that we learned of [Mark Hoekstra]’s death this morning. Earlier this week, the 34 year old hacker suffered a heart attack while riding his bicycle and was admitted to the hospital in a coma. [Markie] has been a Hack a Day commenter for much of our existence and a project contributor for nearly as long. It started simply with things like his bright green Hack a Day iPod sock and a hand crank iPod charger. He did an excellent job documenting his projects; many people had built IR cameras, but none were nearly as thorough as him. He also enjoyed sharing his love for obsolete hardware with the community. He built a wireless eMate, turned two Mac SE/30’s into audio viualizers, and wired shutter glasses to an old SGI.

It was always a treat to hear about [Mark]’s latest project and he’ll be missed greatly.

[photo: Bram Belloni]

3D Glasses For An SGI


[Mark Hoekstra] is a true SGI enthusiast, and he proves it with these 3D glasses for an SGI. Taking advantage of the SGI’s stereo viewport, [Hoekstra] created a controller for a pair of CrystalEyes glasses that would allow them to be used with the SGI.

[Hoekstra] used the schematic from [M.C.D. Roos]’s similar project, which used old Asus 3D VR glasses. This project can theoretically be done with any LCD-shutter glasses, the only important thing to know is the maximum shutter voltage the glasses will take. [Hoekstra] felt his way through building the board by common sense alone and somehow managed to avoid any shorts. The board only makes three connections to the glasses: an out to the left lens, one to the right, and a ground wire. After building the controller board out of an LM324 chip and a customized segment of perf board, he learned that he needed a monitor capable of displaying a relatively high bit depth at 100Hz, or 50Hz per eye. He tested the glasses with a game called Hacknoid after making a few last minute changes on the board (forgot the ground fuse), and he was soon making himself dizzy with his functioning 3D glasses.