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Speedier workstations make a debut

Faster processors spur Hewlett-Packard and IBM to launch a total of nine new workstation models and Dell to revamp its Precision line.

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell Computer on Monday tuned up their workstation lines with faster processors and other new features.

Workstations are powerful desktop computers, created for jobs such as the computer-aided design of new products that include automobiles or airplanes. They represent a fairly small but often profitable segment of the business PC market. Workstation unit shipments recently began growing again in the third quarter after five quarters of decline, a recent report by Gartner Dataquest said.

The less-expensive varieties of these machines use processors from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices and run the Windows or Linux operating systems. Higher-priced, yet often higher-performance, workstations run proprietary chips and operating systems from their manufacturers. Some of HP's newest workstations, for example, use its own PA-RISC processor and HP-UX version of Unix.

IBM--the third largest workstation manufacturer, according to the Gartner report--introduced three new workstations on Monday, including one based on its Power4 server processor. Power4 features dual-processor cores, allowing one chip to deliver the performance of two separate chips.

IBM's least expensive IntelliStation M Pro 6219, which starts at $2,335, is the most like a traditional desktop PC. It will offer a choice among several single Pentium 4 processors, including Intel's new 3.06GHz chip.

The more expensive IntelliStation Z Pro 6221, starting at $3,189, uses Intel's Xeon chips. It allows for more brawn than the new M Pro model, including up to 8GB of memory.

IBM's most powerful and most expensive new workstation is the IntelliStation Power p630, which includes the Power4 processor and uses IBM's own GXT4500 or GXT6500 graphics accelerators. The Unix workstation can accommodate up to 16GB of memory and will be priced at $12,495, IBM said in a statement.

Meanwhile, HP--the number two workstation manufacturer--launched a broader selection that includes six new workstation models in its ongoing product line merger with Compaq. Four of the new xw series Intel-based workstations offer aggressive prices, while two using the company's own PA-RISC chip focus on heavier-duty tasks such as product design simulation.

Prices start at under $1,000 for the new xw4000, which uses a single Pentium 4 processor from Intel. The new xw5000, xw6000 and xw8000 models offer increasingly better hardware, including larger memory allotments and faster graphics, along with higher prices. Where the xw5000 is based on a single Pentium 4, the xw6000 and xw8000 machines offer a choice between one or two Xeon chips up to 2.8GHz.

The HP Workstation c3750 and HP Workstation j6750 include either one or two PA-RISC 8700+ processors running at 875MHz. HP did not provide pricing on the new machines.

Nearly all of the new Intel processor-based workstations announced on Monday were designed around one of two new Intel chipsets, the E7205 and the E7505. Chipsets are essential groups of chips that assist the processor and shuttle data around inside a computer. The E7205 is for single-processor Pentium 4 workstations and the E7505 for single- or dual-processor Xeon workstations. Both include new features, such as support for the less-expensive Double Data Rate Synchronous Dynamic RAM (DDR SDRAM) memory, Intel said.

Following the trend, Dell also updated its three Precision workstation models with faster processors and the new Intel chipsets. The company's Precision 350, which packs a single Pentium 4 chip, is now available with processor speeds of up to 3.06GHz. The workstation, which is shipping now, starts at about $1,300, according to Dell's Web site.

The company also updated its Precision 450 and Precision 650, which feature single- or dual-processor Xeon configurations. The two machines are similar, but the Precision 450 was designed to take up less space, Dell representatives said, allowing it to be used in tight areas like trading floors or in computing clusters. The Precision 650 is a full-sized tower.

Pricing on these two new Precisions starts at $1,600 and $1,900, respectively. The revamped 450 and 650 models will be available in December.