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SGI shows off Xeon-based computers

Silicon Graphics demonstrates its move away from MIPS chips, running Intel-based computers at Comdex.

Silicon Graphics is showing computers based on Pentium II Xeon chips at the Comdex computer show this week, publicly demonstrating its move to Intel chips.

The computers, on display in a trailer emblazoned with the word "Xeon," are the most concrete demonstration so far of SGI's shift away from MIPS chips and toward Intel chips.

SGI originally planned to start selling Xeon-based workstations this year, but a glitch forced a delay until January 1999. SGI encountered difficulties getting the Xeon chips to work properly in the systems.

The Intel systems are part of SGI's plan to return to profitability. SGI also is increasing its efforts to sell servers and services.

Rick Belluzzo, chairman and chief executive officer of SGI, said in April that in the long term, SGI will move its workstations and servers from the current MIPS chip platform to an Intel chip platform.

Chips aren't the only change for the company. SGI likely will eventually move its workstations solely to the Windows NT operating system, but at present, NT isn't yet powerful enough, said SGI spokeswoman Ginny Babbit. "Until NT can sustain the scalability and power requirement, we'll support both platforms," Babbit said.

In the server space, Unix will remain SGI's key operating system, although the company is thinking of offering Windows NT products. "NT Server has not proven out to be as effective as NT client," she said.

Meanwhile, SGI spun off the MIPS chip division into a separate company, MIPS Technologies. That move so far appears to have been a good idea: MIPS stock has risen from $14 during the initial public offering to its current value of $26.50.

The Xeon chip is similar to ordinary Pentium II chips, but its secondary cache memory runs faster, and the Xeon will support larger caches than in the Pentium II. The chip is being adopted in several companies' server and workstation plans.