Editor's note: Since this was written, Rackable Systems acquired assets of SGI in 2009, after which Rackable assumed the name "Silicon Graphics International"
Dr. James Clark (EE Professor, Computer Systems Laboratory) learned VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) design in a pilot course given to faculty. He worked on a geometry engine prototype in CSL with the help of Professors John Hennessy, Forest Baskett, and others.
The geometry engine was a pipelined floating point unit which does the 3D translation rotation and clipping functions needed to do complex, sophisticated graphics. He built the first one in CSL, and Hennessy wrote a compiler and optimizer for the control language which was compiled into a PLA (Programmable Logic Array).Jim Clark had the vision that there was a market for computer systems based on three-dimensional graphics. When his research was ready to be put into practice, he paid visits to established computer companies to sell his idea to them. Incredibly, not a single company understood the impact.
As a result, in 1982 Clark took a leave-of-absence to start Silicon Graphics with six graduate students. Unfortunately for Stanford, he did not return to the university, but his leadership at Silicon Graphics in the development of both graphics hardware and software was instrumental in establishing that company as the leader in visual computing systems. Clark resigned from Silicon Graphics in March, 1994, intending to start a new software company for the coming generation of interactive television [but instead founded what later became Netscape -- ed.]
Written by Carolyn Tajnai, From the Valley of Heart's Delight to the Silicon Valley: A Study of Stanford University's Role in the TransformationNext Company Spotlight