Tech Industry

Faster, cheaper workstations here

Hewlett-Packard leads the low-cost charge, offering a new version of its entry-level, single-processor workstation for $1,900.

Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and Intergraph rolled out new workstations today that highlight pricing differences between Intel's growing number of Pentium II and Xeon processors.

Although the more advanced and pricier Xeon Pentium II processor will eventually become the primary processor for Intel-based workstations, most vendors use the faster versions of the lower-cost Pentium II for entry level systems in this market because of the price difference between the two chips.

At the bottom of the price spectrum, HP issued a new version of its entry-level XA workstation, a single-processor workstation containing a 350-MHz Pentium II and a high performance 4.3GB hard disk drive, that is priced starting at $1,900.

The XA will be available with either the 2D Matrox G200 graphics subsystem or an entry-level 3D graphics subsystem from Elsa, as previously reported. Optional 400-MHz or 450-MHz Pentium II processors are available, as well.

(Click here for detailed specifications.)

So far, cheap workstations have been a hit with companies even though in some respects they don't appear to be much different than souped up PCs.

"It's not so much that these systems offer higher performance (than a standard PC), but that they work well with the software that companies intend to use on it," said Peter ffoulkes, workstation analyst with Dataquest.

HP, for instance, worked to ensure that popular applications in fields such as 2D computer aided design were certified compatible with their systems, and has offered extra technical support for customers, ffoulkes noted.

In fact, HP's success with these low-end systems has forced vendors such as Compaq and Dell to offer their own low-end workstation products.

Compaq also introduced today several new workstation models based on the 450-MHz Pentium II, including the Professional Workstation AP200, 400, and 500. The AP 200 with 450-MHz Pentium II, 128MB of memory, and an Elsa or Permedia graphics card is priced starting at $2,983.

Compaq's AP500 is receiving the most emphasis from the company, as the workstation can be equipped with the PowerStorm 300 graphics accelerator, which is derived from technology acquired from Digital, and up to two 450-MHz Pentium II processors.

Prices start at $3,411 for a system with 128MB of memory. The PowerStorm graphics card is expected to be available later in the fourth quarter of 1998, although all Compaq workstation systems are currently available.

Intergraph today decided to go with the higher performance (and higher priced) Xeon chip in offerings it announced, highlighting the company's ability to keep up with Intel's chip offerings in spite of the ongoing legal tangle between the two companies.

The TDZ 2000 GX1 Visual Workstation is priced starting at $4,999 for a system with 400-MHz Xeon Pentium II processor and high-performance graphics accelerator card. The Xeon chip has secondary "cache" memory that operates at a faster speed than that found in the regular Pentium II, allowing for faster access to data.

Six different graphics subsystems are offered, including three Intergraph designed systems. The workstations are currently available, according to Intergraph. (Click here for detailed specifications.)

Whether customers purchase machines with Xeon or Pentium II chips depends upon the application, HP officials said. Xeon adds only around five percent in performance on certain applications, while on other applications boosts of 15 to 20 percent have been seen, officials claim.

(Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)