Desktops

SGI to release Itanium workstation

New system will accommodate one or two Itanium 2 processors and as much as 24GB of memory, with a starting price of $8,500.

Shortly after rival Hewlett-Packard withdrew from the market, Silicon Graphics has begun selling a new workstation with Intel's Itanium processor.

SGI's new system, which costs between $8,500 and $39,000, accommodates one or two Itanium 2 processors and as much as 24GB of memory, the company is expected to announce Tuesday. It's based on the same technology, including the Linux operating system and ATI graphics hardware, as the company's higher-end Prism products introduced last October.

SGI has embraced Itanium and Linux as an alternative to its earlier models with its own MIPS processors and Irix operating system. Though the new products have taken off rapidly for the company, it continues to struggle financially.

In the quarter ended March 25, the company had a net loss of $45 million, results that were "far short of our initial expectations," said Chief Executive Bob Bishop, citing competitive pressure and a failure to close several deals.

HP co-developed Itanium and remains its chief advocate among computer makers, but facing weak demand, it discontinued Itanium workstations last year. Instead, it chose to focus on machines using Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron and Intel's Xeon--models that remain compatible with x86 chips such as Pentium but that add 64-bit support useful for jobs that need large quantities of memory.

But Simon Hayhurst, manager of SGI's visuals system line, said SGI's machines are geared for different tasks from both Opteron workstations. Specifically, it can transfer data to and from memory faster and can accommodate more memory.

Though some dual-processor Opteron systems will accommodate 32GB of memory eventually, doing so will require higher-capacity memory chips, which will mean the SGI system can reach as high as 48GB, Hayhurst said.