Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Intellivision II has arrived

 Recently I received my Intellivision II system and I am very excited to muck around with it!

My story with Intellivision was the first console/computer I ever played with as a kid back in the early 1980's.

As those who still play with retro systems all know, the pull of old systems you played as a child has a special place in your heart, as it links so many memories of your life together with it!

Actually, I originally had a woodgrain Intellivision console, rather than this Intellivision II. Here I am back in the 1980's playing Checkers on the Intellivision, not longer after we bought the Commodore 64 to replace it (also pictured).

I never did get the Intellivision II or many of the cool add-ons released for the Intellivision back then. My parents sold the Intellivision at a garage sale a few years later.

I got a US Intellivision in the 1990's as a freebie, but without a step down transformer it was useless, and NTSC support on TV's was far less common then than it is now. I sold it on.

I bought the FPGA Intellivision Flashback remake a few years ago, which was not sold in Australia so I had to source it from the US. The normal release had 61 games on it, but only a handful of controller overlays included, not the full set for the 61 games. That seemed a bit of a cheapskate move and detracted from the experience of the games since the functions for each game were written on the overlays...

At the time, the makers did a limited run Blue sky rangers signed version where you could buy the full set of controller overlays as an option, and I got that version. And yeah, there is a lot of overlays - this is just the right controller set, with the same number of left controller overlays on top of this:

It is fun to play with this Flashback version, but it only has 61 games on it, and didn't have all my favourite games for Intellivision on it like Burger Time, Atlantis, and others too.

So, I thought now is the time to get another one before they become collector fodder and sell for stupid prices on Ebay like Amigas, Commodore 64's and other more popular systems of the era do now. 

Another reason is because Intellivision is back in 2020, and a new Intellivision system called the Amico is coming out in 2021 and it looks very cool indeed. The new controllers are very very cool. I have already pre-ordered one, the woodgrain version naturally. You can check the Intellivision Amico website out here if you want to learn more.

Yet another reason is because there is a lot of new games now available for the original Intellivision in 2020. Yes, REALLY! Amazing. Development of new titles for Intellivision still - I couldn't believe it! Some of them are here, but plenty more dotted around the web:

This time I decided to get an Intellivision II instead of the Intellivision I. 

Why? Because it was a smaller different design, I never had one, and it has controllers that can be unplugged, unlike the original Intellivision. This means I can swap my Intellivision Flashback controllers into it when/if the controllers fail on it.

I was lucky to source an Intellivision II from an Australian based seller with a rare AV output mod done on it. Intellivision only had RF output, which is a pain on modern TV's. So this was another plus. It also came with a bunch of games to play with right away!

After unpacking, I took a closer look at the Intellivision II itself, with power supply and AV cable supplied:

It is a pretty machine - you can see the AV mod in the front of the case:

Here is the back view:

This is the view of the bottom, with all the labels in tact. I wonder if the free cartridge offer still stands?

As you can see, you can detach the controllers from the main Intellivision II unit, which is a huge improvement on the original Intellivision woodgrain console.

I was excited to get it hooked up. First I tried out a game which I didn't actually get to play as a kid, Reversi:

I was pleased that the system works perfectly. Took a bit to get used to the power/reset being the same button on the Intellivision II, but I worked it out in the end.

Once I received Burger Time a few days later in the post, to get some Burger Time action underway - my very favourite game on the Intellivision:

The memories all come flooding back when you hear that awesome soundtrack. I had it as my mobile phone ringtone for many years!

Some of my favourite games of the Intellivision era - Burger Time, Triple Action (Biplane specifically), Space Armada and Tennis:

Another favourite game of mine on the Intellivision was Atlantis. Like Burger Time, this was not on the Intellivision Flashback. I ordered it from the US and eventually it came. After some serious disinfection it was ready to try out.

Amazingly enough I also received another delivery from the US on the same day - an Intellivoice expansion for the Intellivision, which (for the very few games that supported it) allow voice playback on the Intellivision! It came with two games still in the original shrink-wrap!

Closer view of the Intellivoice expansion out of the box:

Can I still get the $2.50 check? :-)

I connected it up to the Intellivision II. Obviously it was intended to be connected to the woodgrain Intellivision I, as the colours are the same as that. It looks a bit odd on the Intellivision II:

I got a little distracted playing Atlantis. Actually, very distracted. 

I played it for hours actually and forgot all about the Intellivoice. This console hooks you in :-)

I will need to find time to play the Intellivoice games soon and report back on those. I have some new release games on the way which also use it's functionality, so I look forward to trying it out with new release 2020 games too!

My Intellivision collection is quickly getting larger, helped by reasonable pricing on the games still and the fact I have most of the game controller overlays so I don't need to care if the game has the overlays with it. I have brand new ones I can use instead of old damaged or missing ones here and there.

I am really happy to have my Intellivision II and especially looking forward to trying out the new release games which are on the way (hopefully) to me soon.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

New Silicon Graphics Octane has arrived!

I finally own a Silicon Graphics system! These machines were so expensive when they were new, but nowadays you can pick them up quite cheaply. I picked up an Octane system from a Australian seller, and I now have it working. Let's take a closer look at this amazing system.

These systems cost a fortune when they were for sale. Seriously.

Back in 1998 these systems were selling for $20,000 for the entry level 225Mhz R10000 model with 128MB memory and 4GB SCSI disk! 

They used a 64bit MIPS R10000/R120000 or R14000 processor which ran a 64bit Irix Unix OS. In 1998! My PC, Mac and Amiga were 16 bit computers at that time.

Higher models like the 250Mhz model sold for $40,000.

Check out this old article from C|Net about it:

Just wow. With those kind of prices (and me bring a Uni student at that time), it was just a fantasy to ever see, let alone own one of these machines.

I remember going to an electronics show in Perth at the time, when they had the Octane and O2 on display running Maya and AutoCAD, and the sales guys were very keen to stop young obviously poor people like me having a go on it. I just looked from a distance and dismissed it as something I would never be able to afford.

Now, in 2020, the world has changed. High end workstations are much cheaper now, running on Intel 64bit hardware. Still 64bit after all these years. Shows how far ahead of the pack SGI was back then. These SGI systems were basically servers in their design philosophy, but as an end-user workstation!

SGI lost it's core customer base in the early 2000's when Maya was ported to much cheaper Intel PC's could no longer compete as they lost their performance advantage as MIPS eventually fell behind. They tried selling 64bit Intel systems (without the amazing MIPS based architecture) but no longer had the advantage over their other competition who sold cheaper systems. They sunk completely back in 2009, HP bought what was left and I believe are no more in 2020.

But the amazing hardware SGI released survives, and fortunately due to it's niche original user base (which is no longer interested in these systems), they are very cheap to buy compared to their original pricing. This one cost AUD$800. Maybe I paid too much, but it is quite a system for the money, and I can finally see what the fuss was all about back then...

It arrived well packaged. It took me a long time to unpack it, which I was very grateful for as the system appeared to survive the trip with no damage. 

The top half of the front case opens on a funky plastic hinge which I can see would be quite fragile. When opened you can see the two external facing slightly taller than normal 3.5 inch bays (I believe the missing cover bay originally used to house an optional SCSI Tape drive for backups), and the power button.

I was originally looking for the lower end O2 system, which is kind of the "baby" SGI machine, but it is much slower, and doesn't feature the same amazing internal setup of the Octane.

I could only find them overseas, and the cost was not much different to this Octane (once I negotiated the price) so I went for this.

This system is a R12000 MIPS system running at 400Mhz (Single processor), with 2GB memory (amazing for a machine in 1998), and an EMXI graphics card module installed. This is the highest spec graphics card you can put in the Octane 1. There is a VPro module for the later Octane 2 and the higher end Onyx SGI workstations. That Onyx system used to cost $75,000 and up. Wow, really.

One limitation of the Octane system is the lack of 5.25 bays, which means the CDROM/DVD cannot be mounted internally. I will need to trace a SGI SCSI DVDROM/CDROM external drive to connect to it. This drive needs to be a Toshiba drive for compatibility to the CD format used on SGI OS CD's, which can't apparently be booted from on PC CDROM drives. This is a bit pricey and hard to find too. I actually have a suitable spare Toshiba internal CDROM drive from my Amiga system which should be compatible, but need to track down a suitable external SCSI CDROM case to put it in. 

For now I plan to rely on network connectivity to get software and data from my other systems onto this one.

There are two quick release buttons on the top of the case that then allow you to lower the front case, revealing the internal SCSI SCA connector backplane in the Octane.

There is one SGI 73GB SCSI drive installed in the lower bay using a Drive caddy/sled. Much like servers, these are designed to be easily swappable, but it does mean locating a SGI drive caddy/sled if I want to add additional drives, which I would like to do. I'll keep an eye out for one.

Not sure what the connector at the bottom right is for yet...I don't have a manual unfortunately. 

Here is a closeup of the easily removable SGI drive caddy/sled with the 73GB SCSI disk inside. 

Turning the system around to the back, you can see the very unique SGI 8 port Crossbar switch backplane design. The mainboard, graphics cards and other modules are house in a caddy and connect to one of these ports, and can be completely swapped out easily by pulling the modules out from the rear. The Case itself does not need to be opened. The mainboard has a handle to assist with it given the size of it.

This main motherboard module in the Octane has Digital SPDIF audio ports in/out, RCA ports in/out, Coaxial digital in/out - nice:

The system is made in Switzerland according to the label on the back. How rare is that! 

It also has a external 68 pin SCSI port connector, network port, a port I am not sure what it is for, 2 PS/2 ports for keyboard/mouse and two serial ports at the bottom.

In the middle section is a PCI riser cage, which is an option you can install in the Octane to have PCI cards in it.

On the right side is the EMXI graphics card module, which has a proprietary DB-13W3 Display connector, which I needed to buy an adapter for to output to standard VGA out:

I hate proprietary connectors. Apple love them, and use them to charge whatever they like for converters that should not be necessary. SGI did the same thing with this connector. 

Here is the 13W3 to VGA converter I bought:

I took the PS/2 Compaq keyboard and mouse from my neighbouring 1Ghz Pentium 3 PC to use on the Octane temporarily as below. I have located an original Silicon Graphics keyboard and mouse and they are on their way to me soon!

In the meantime I powered on and the machine rumbles to life. Certainly isn't quiet but not server noisy either.

Welcome to Octane, indeed:

The lights on the front change from POST red to orange and display the initial boot menu:

Close up of the Boot menu:

After booting up and logging into the machine as root, the IRIX 6.5 desktop appears, with the SGI System Manager application, top processes and small console window open and ready for me to run stuff.

My Octane system's configuration:

The Icon Catalog view is nice. Shows the launch icons for various programs, divided into multiple tabs at the bottom which you can easily switch between:

I configured the network settings to get the SGI Octane online. Fortunately the Irix focused websites have carefully continued using older HTML standards so they work with the very old web browsers included with Irix.

I set to work downloading Irix software form the internet to try out on my machine:

I also received a separate SGI Software library CD set containing the full Irix 6.5.21 CD set, which will enable me to re-install the system from CD.

One issue is that I don't have a SCSI CD drive. The intention is to setup the FTP install option which allow you to install the OS on the Silicon Graphics Octane over the network. It needs a specially prepared Ubuntu machine to make this work. I plan to try this when I have another SCSI disk to experiment on.

I tried my first installation, some software called Cosmo Create 1.0.3. To install on Irix, commercial software uses the System Manager, which has a Software manager tool to install software:

I next got the options to install with the setup of Cosmo Create - the install window is great and has all the info you need:

Installation underway:

There is a few license agreements to agree with - here for Adobe Reader 4.0:

Install completed successfully:

Now I can see the program icons in the Icon Catalog window, but it complains on launch that I need to set some parameters to be able to run as root it wasn't immediately obvious how I supposed to do that:

Eventually I worked it out:

Yeah I know, I shouldn't run as root, etc etc. Just wanted to play with it quickly and I haven't setup another user on the machine yet.

I tried to install OpenOffice on the Octane:

Unfortunately it needs GNU tar and some other dependencies, like a number of other games and demos I tried to run...

I will play more with it later - I have run out of time this weekend.

It is really great to finally have an Silicon Graphics Octane system:

As mentioned I will explore this machine in more detail soon. I plan to get another SCSI hard disk and attempt an install from scratch so I can learn how to build one of these machines myself. 

I still have a lot to learn, but that is the best part right of playing with new systems like this, right? :-)