irixboot

Resurrecting an SGI O2

Years ago, I was getting into Linux on esoteric architectures, which started with a Gateway Microserver which runs the MIPS architecture… to better understand this platform I also obtained a few SiliconGraphics workstations, including this O2.

Originally a R5000SC at 180MHz and 128MB RAM, I managed to get hold of an RM5200 300MHz CPU module for it, and with the help of people on the #mipslinux channel on the old irc.freenode.net, managed to obtain a PROM update to get the RM5200 working. Aside from new HDDs (the original died just recently), it’s largely the stock hardware.

I figured it deserved to go to a new home, and a fellow on Gumtree (in WA) happened to be looking for some of these iconic machines, so I figured I might as well clean this machine up as best I can and get it over there while it’s still somewhat functioning. That said, age has not been friendly to this beast.

  • the CD-ROM drive tray gear has popped off the motor spindle, rendering the CD-ROM drive non-functional
  • in trying to fix the CD-ROM issue (I tried disassembling the drive but couldn’t get at the parts needed), the tab that holds the lid of the machine on broke
  • the PSU fan, although free to spin, does not appear to be operational
  • the machine seems to want to shut off after a few minutes of run-time

The latter two are related I think: likely things get too hot and a protection circuit kicks in to turn the machine off. There’s no dust in the machine to cause a lack of air flow, I thus suspect the fan is the issue. This will be my biggest challenge I suspect. It looks to be a fairly standard case fan, so opening up the power supply (not for the feint of heart!) to replace it with a modern one isn’t out of the question.

The CD-ROM drive is a different matter. SGI machines use 512-byte sectors on their CDs, and this requires CD-ROM firmware that supports this. I have a couple of Plextor SCSI drives that do offer this (there is a jumper marked “BLOCK”), but they won’t physically fit in the O2 (they are caddy-loading drives). Somewhere around the house I have a 68-pin SCSI cable, I should be able to link that to the back of the O2 via its external SCSI port, then cobble together a power supply to run the drive externally… but that’ll be a project for another day.

A working monitor was a possible challenge, but a happy accident: it seems some LCD montiors can do sync-on-green, and thus are compatible with the O2. I’m using a little 7″ USB-powered WaveShare LCD which I normally use for provisioning Raspberry Pi PCs. I just power the monitor via a USB power supply and use the separately-provided VGA adaptor cable to plug it into the O2. So I don’t have to ship a bulky 20″ CRT across the country.

The big issue is getting an OS onto the thing. I may have to address the sudden-shutdown issue first before I can get a reasonable chance at an OS install. The big problem being an OS that these things can run. My options today seem to be:

  • Debian Jessie and earlier (Stretch dropped support for mips4 systems, favouring newer mips64r2/mips32r2 systems)
  • Gentoo Linux (which it currently does run)
  • OpenBSD 6.9 and earlier (7.0 discontinues the sgi port)
  • NetBSD 9.2
  • IRIX 6.5

The fellow ideally wants IRIX 6.5 on the thing, which is understandable, that is the native OS for these machines. I never had a full copy of IRIX install media, and have only used IRIX once (it came installed on the Indy). I’ve only ever installed Gentoo on the O2.

Adding to the challenge, I’ll have to network boot the thing because of the duff CD-ROM drive. I had thought I’d just throw NetBSD on the thing since that is “current” and would at least prove the hardware works with a minimum of fuss… but then I stumbled on some other bits and pieces:

  • irixboot is a Vagrant-based virtual machine with tools needed to network-boot a SGI workstation. The instructions used for IP22 hardware (Indy/Indigo² should work here because IP32 hardware like the O2 also have 32-bit PROMs)
  • The Internet Archive provides CD images for IRIX 6.5, including the foundation discs which I’ve never posessed

Thus, there seems to be all the bits needed to get IRIX onto this thing, if I can get the machine to stay running long enough.