The SGI 1600SW Flat-Panel Display Saga

Back in ’03 I grabbed an SGI O2 system on eBay. I always wanted an SGI to play with (used them in the lab back in college for a bit) and it seemed the O2 was the best bang for the buck. To go with it I grabbed an almost-new SGI 1600SW widescreen, flat-panel display. 17.3-inches diagonal, 1600×1024 native resolution at 110dpi and an industrial design that’s won awards. [ Informative PDF here. ] A lovely display. The thing is, I really don’t use the O2 very often — glad to have it, but it sits idle most of the time. But that screen. What a screen….

I recently pulled my media PC out of the entertainment center and installed Ubuntu Linux on it as a second OS (XP’s on the box, as well). Just wanted to play around with Compiz Fusion, really. At any rate, it occurred to to me that the 1600SW would make a lovely display for that box. But sadly the SGI display is not DVI, but an LVDS signal. Happily, there are DVI to LVDS converters.

The best and most versatile is the SGI Multilink, an external box — but it’s costly. $400 on eBay is not an uncommon thing to see. As such, I’ve gone with a cheaper alternative: the GFX-1600SW Multilink adapter alternative. It sits in a PCI slot (it just draws power — it’s not a graphics card) and converts a DVI signal to LVDS. Sadly, it doesn’t do much in the way of scaling non-native resolutions, but it was much cheaper than the SGI Multitlink.

In searching for information about the GFX-1600SW, I ran across a link that was 404-ing, but a trip to archive.org revealed the page. As it seemed helpful to folks trying to make modern use of the 1600SW, I’ve captured it and placed a copy here, on this site. Have a look. I tip my hat to ‘Orion,’ who created the page.

Wish me luck in this endeavor. The adapter is in the mail — I’ll let you know how things turn out.

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7 Responses to The SGI 1600SW Flat-Panel Display Saga

  1. Josh says:

    You should keep checking out Nekochan, there was a Multilink that went for about $75 a few weeks ago. I am sure that there are a few more that will come up cheaper.

    I have 2 1600SW and I love them, the native resolution is just awesome.

  2. Kim says:

    Thanks for the info. Any news yet? I’d like to hook up my old 1600SW to a MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, my SGI power supply died, so that’s an additional problem…

  3. badr says:

    Ahhhh man. I also own an O2 and I have also the Visual Workstation SGI rolled out with Windows 2000 which was a mess… :( I was one of those whop fell on that trap…

    I don’t have the monitor though… I’d love to get my hands on of those monitors just because they look so frigging cool.

  4. Bryce says:

    Mine are still going strong, I just found a PIX-Link adapter on eBay to keep the tradition going. I just created a new page on Wikipedia to list all the adapters made for the monitor (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SGI_1600SW ).

  5. James says:

    I’ve got an SGi Octane and accompanying 19″ CRT monitor. I don’t suppose you happen to know anywhere that sells Octane -> VGA adapters? You see, as nice as the SGi monitor is, it’s massive and weighs about 20Kg; The space it consumes in my house could be better spent housing other retro gear.

  6. John L says:

    October 2013, I still have 5 SGI 1600SW displays in regular use. All of them use a SGI Multilink Controller. The only age related failures have been the 12v 4amp power supplies, but they are easily replaced for $20. Turn off the display when not in use to extend the life of the back light.

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