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Sun, Dell to cut workstation prices

The moves highlight the competitive nature of the workstation market as companies pit their Unix and Windows machines against each other.

Sun Microsystems will beef up its Unix workstation line tomorrow with faster chips, price cuts, and a new graphics option--but the competition isn't standing still, as Dell will cut prices on its workstations by as much as 17 percent.

The moves highlight the competitive nature of the workstation market as companies pit their Unix and Windows machines against each other. While analysts note that Windows NT machines still can't take on high-end Unix machines, it's a different story at the lower end of the workstation market, where high-volume components translate into low costs.

Sun's upgrades come across the spectrum of its workstation line. At the lower end, Sun is upgrading the Ultra 5 workstation from a 270-MHz UltraSparc II chip to a 360-MHz chip, said Steve Grigory, senior product manager for the Ultra 5 and 10. In addition, Sun doubled the hard-disk capacity to 8.4 GB. Including 64MB of memory and a 32x CD-ROM, a Ultra 5 system will cost $2,495, he said.

The UltraSparc II chip that comes with the Ultra 10 has been boosted from 360 MHz to 440 MHz, and the system now is available with the high-end Elite 3D M6 graphics card, Grigory said. Previously, the system was available only with the M3 card, while the M6 was limited to higher-end workstations. Because of graphics-card price cuts, an Ultra 10 with the M3 used to cost $7,995 but will now cost $7,495 with the M6.

The M6 can draw three-dimensional images at the rate of about 5.9 million triangles per second, said Bjorn Andersson, product line manager for graphics and multimedia at Sun. Sun has dropped the non-3D Creator card from its product line, Andersson said.

Higher up the Sun product line, the Ultra 2 workstation now is available with a 400-MHz chip and the Ultra 60 workstation with a 450-MHz chip, said Chris Scheufeley, manager for the Ultra workstation product line. Previously, the fastest chips for those models ran at 300 MHz and 360 MHz, respectively. (Despite the low number, the Ultra 2 is a high-performance workstation.)

The 450-MHz-based Ultra 60 costs $12,995, including 256 MB of memory, a Creator 3D graphics card, and a 9 GB hard drive. A similarly configured Ultra 2 with a 400 MHz chip costs $13,275.

Dell, meanwhile, will cut prices for its Precision 210, 410, and 610 workstations. For example, a 210 with a 450-MHz Pentium III chip, 64 MB of RAM, a Diamond Permedia2 graphics card, and dual 6.4 GB hard drives will drop by 17 percent to $2,241.

The cheapest Dell workstation will cost $1,668, including a 400-MHz Pentium II chip, 17-inch monitor, Diamond Permedia graphics card, 64 MB of RAM, a 40x CD-ROM drive, and a single 6.4 MB HD.

Cuts in the midrange 410 line will be as high as 15.5 percent, and cuts for Dell's top-end 610 will be as much as 7.4 percent, according to the company.

Dell's workstations differ from ordinary desktops in that they can accommodate as many as two processors and are certified by some software makers to work with those programs.