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Sun cuts prices, unveils new chip

Sun Microsystems announces price reductions on workstations and introduces a high-end system with its fastest chip yet.

Sun Microsystems is announcing price cuts on workstations today and introducing a high-end system with Sun's fastest chip yet.

The price cuts follow better-than-expected sales on the Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 workstations, two low-cost systems targeted to compete against Windows NT-based workstations, according to Robert Novak, general manager of power desktop workstations at Sun. The systems have also enabled the company to steal market share away from other Unix vendors, according to analysts at market research houses.

With the price reductions, the Ultra 5 workstation will start at $2,495, $500 less than originally priced. The basic configuration comes with a 270-MHz UltraSparc II(i) processor, 64MB of memory, and a 4.3GB hard drive. Sun has also dropped the requirement that customers purchase a Sun monitor.

Workstations in this class from Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard, which use Intel processors, are priced similarly. The price cuts follow last month's introduction of the 350-MHz and 400-MHz Pentium II chips from Intel as well as workstations using the new processors.

Meanwhile, the higher-performance Ultra 10 is being discounted $1,500 to $4,195. The Ultra 10 comes with a 300-MHz version of the processor and is aimed at the mechanical design market. Unlike the Ultra 5, customers are required to buy a monitor with the machine, although Sun has discounted those as well.

Introduced earlier this year, the Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 were developed with an eye toward cutting sales costs and, in many ways, the two systems differ substantially from other Sun computers. Both are based around the UltraSparc II(i) processor module, a less-expensive integrated processor which fuses a 64-bit UltraSparc II processor with features often found on separate chips onto a single piece of silicon. Unlike other Sun products, the two systems are also assembled by overseas contract manufacturers and can only be acquired directly from Sun.

Meanwhile, Sun is refreshing the high end of its lineup with a new version of the Ultra 60 workstation using a 360-MHz chip. The new Ultra 60 starts at $13,595, approximately $300 more than the 300-MHz version of the product out now. With the new release, the 300-MHz product is discounted, Novak said.

While Unix workstation sales have remained relatively flat in comparison to Windows NT-based workstations, the lower-end Ultra 5 and 10 machines have turned out to be fairly good weapons for Sun in combating products from PC vendors.

"They've done a pretty good job on the workstation front in keeping up with Windows NT," said Peter ffoulkes, workstation analyst at Dataquest.