The Origin 300 uses modules of CPUs, input-output ports or storage that can be assembled in different proportions depending on the computing task at hand. It's the same design employed by the top-end Origin 3000 line, unveiled in July 2000 and capable of using as many as 512 CPUs.
Mountain View, Calif.-based SGI boasted that its systems are priced lower than products from Unix server market leaders Sun Microsystems, IBM and Hewlett-Packard. The company isn't trying to take on those competitors head to head, but is instead focusing on its core niche market of technical users performing tasks such as creating digital animations, conducting physics simulations of cars or airplanes, trying to find patterns in satellite images or searching for genetic information.
SGI faces challenges, though. Research for high-end computing systems is expensive, and the company has been struggling with financial losses and layoffs. SGI's stock currently is trading at about 50 cents a share.
The base Origin 300 system is a 3.5-inch-thick rack-mountable chassis with two or four of the company's 64-bit MIPS processors. A two-processor system with 512MB of memory costs $24,000. Connecting this module to others can lead to a 32-processor system with 32GB of memory and a price tag of about $500,000, the company said.
The largest configurations available today employ eight processors. Systems with more processors or input-output expansion modules will be available later this quarter, the company said.
Unix servers are popular among business customers who need to perform tasks such as logging purchases made at grocery stores or running eBay auctions. SGI tried to woo these general-purpose customers but was forced to retreat to its technical niche.
The Unix server market in 2000 accounted for $29 billion of the total $60 billion in server sales, according to research firm IDC. Now, though, the economic malaise and demise of Internet business customers has increased competition.