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Hard Drive


The SGI320 can handle both IDE and SCSI drives. Internally, there is a spare 3.5″ bay to accommodate a second hard drive, although some users (including myself) have installed a third drive suspended from the ‘drive cage’. The PSU should not be a problem.


The less expensive 320s were initially shipped with 6.4GB IDE drives. At 5,400RPM, these drives are horrendously slow by today’s standards. Although the IDE bus is only ATA33, newer drives can be used without any problems. Numerous drives ranging from Seagate Barracudas to Maxtors have been reported to work without any problems. Indeed, upgrading a 6.4GB drive with one of the latest models will generally improve the day to day performance of the workstation, probably due to a faster paging file.

It is also possible to use Compact Flash (CF) cards in the SGI320 using a female 40 pin IDE adapter converter card such as Compact Flash CF to 3.5 Female 40 Pin IDE Bootable Adapter. This is installed in the primary or secondary IDE slots on the motherboard. The CF cards can then be used just like a regular hard drive after formatting.


Originally, the 320s shipped with Qlogic 1080 and 1280 SCSI controllers, primarily because they are the only ones the 320 is able to boot from. A number of faster controllers can be used (see PCI cards) but the system will not be able to boot from them.


No external firewire hard drives have been reported as working on the SGI320. Theoretically, such drives should work under Windows 2000 without too many problems. If anyone out there is using a firewire hard drive with their 320 then please let me know so that I can report it.


The SGI320 requires two partitions to boot. The system firmware must load an executable (arcldr.exe) from a FAT partition in order to load the rest of the operating system from another partition. The second partition is by default designated the ‘boot’ partition.

The following restrictions apply when partitioning a new or existing drive.

  • You must select at least two partitions.
  • The second partition must be at least 20 MB in size, and must be formatted using the FAT filesystem.
  • The remaining partition(s) may be any size and formatted as either FAT or NTFS.

Note: The ‘boot’ partition is essential as the PROM reads the ARC Loader off it. The PROM can also read from an NTFS partition but at the time the SGI 320 was released, changes were planned to NTFS for Windows 2000, therefore FAT was recommended to ensure future upgradability Now that it is known that Windows XP does not run on the SGI320, this is somewhat irrelevant.

Installing the Operating System

There has been a lot of confusion as to the fastest and easiest way of installing a fresh OS. Assuming you are not ‘repairing’ an existing OS but installing a fresh copy, follow the procedure outlined:

1) Boot up the SGI320

2) Press the ESCape key. The system firmware displays the main screen.

3) Select the option Startup Settings

4) Delete all previous settings. Save the current settings to confirm your previous actions.

5) Select the option Run System Utilities from the Main Screen and flash the PROM with the latest version (1.005). You may proceed with this step even if you have the latest PROM installed as it resets the default boot settings for both NT and 2000 (2000 set as default in the ARCLoader).

6) Insert the OS CD-ROM, select the option Install System Software from the Main Screen and proceed to install the Operating System.

This procedure installs the default ‘boot files’ on the newly configured 200 MB second partition. As stated previously, the size may be decreased but to no less than 20 MB.

Overcoming the 4 GB limit (NT)

When reinstalling the operating system or upgrading to a new drive, NT imposes a 4095 MB partition size maximum. Two solutions exist for overcoming this problem, depending on accessibility.

Using another workstation

The easiest way to prepare the drive is to use another NT/2000 workstation. Use Disk Administrator (NT) / Administrative Tools (2000) to create two partitions bearing the aforementioned restrictions in mind. The following table lists partition requirements for systems that boot from an IDE drive and systems that boot from a SCSI drive:

Boot Drive
Boot Drive
Operating system partition IDE0, Disk 0,Partition 1 SCSI2, Disk 0,Partition 1
Filesystem NTFS NTFS
Size 4095MB maximum 4095MB maximum
System loader partition IDE0, Disk 0,Partition 2 SCSI2, Disk 0,Partition 2
Filesystem FAT FAT
Size 20 MB minimum 20 MB minimum
Directory Location for NT \WINNT \WINNT

Note: the above table was taken from the original Visual Workstation: Software Installation Guide.

Using the host workstation

If you are preparing a new drive on the workstation itself, a way to get around the 4 GB limitation is to make a minimal NT installation on the newly created 200 MB ‘boot’ partition. Once the OS has been installed you can use Disk Administrator in NT to partition the rest of the drive as you wish.


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