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Workstation battle rages

EIS Computers releases a Solaris workstation for under $8,000, the latest salvo in an escalating Unix-Windows NT workstation war.

EIS Computers has released a Solaris workstation for under $8,000, the latest salvo in an escalating Unix-Windows NT battle for workstation market dominance.

Intel (INTC)-processor-based Windows NT workstations machines have begun to make incursions into the long-time Unix stronghold. Unix workstations from Sun Microsystems (SUNW), Hewlett-Packard's (HWP) PA-RISC workstation division, and IBM's (IBM) RS/6000 division, which use which use fast RISC processors, have traditionally dominated the workstation market.

But last year personal computer makers, using high-end Intel Pentium Pro processors, began to roll out both high-end and lower-end machines in force, which competed with the desktop offerings from Unix vendors such as Sun. The trend is continuing this year with new machines using Intel's newest and fastest Pentium II processor.

Although the NT machines can't compete yet with Unix boxes on all levels, they typically cost less and are selling well. Plus, they continue to make gains in performance.

"They pretty much have stopped the growth of the Unix [workstation] market, especially in the low end," said Peter ffoulkes, principal analyst and director of advanced desktop research at Dataquest. To compete, Unix vendors will have to both push the performance envelope and keep costs competitive.

EIS's Fusion-1 system is designed to match the Intel machines in price. The Fusion-1, which can be configured as a workstation or a server, comes with a Sun 170-MHz UltraSparc processor with 512K of level 2 cache and 64MB of upgradeable memory. The system comes configured with the Solaris operating system version 2.5.1.

The Fusion-1 starts at $7,899 without a monitor, but comes with on-site support and maintenance. The product will be aimed at more cost-conscious customers such as government agencies, said the Moorpark, California-based company.

While relatively low for the Unix market, the price remains high compared to many NT workstations. The Compaq (CPQ) Professional Workstation 6000 with a 266-MHz Pentium II processor, 32MB of memory, and a 2GB hard disk drive starts at $4,200.

While ffolkes added that the pressure created by NT will likely stunt the growth of the Unix-Solaris clone makers like EIS, Pierre von Clemm, product line manager for UltraSparc at Sun, said that the company will continue to try to grow this segment.

Currently, Sun has approximately 15 clone vendors and sells close to 30 percent of its technology through OEM agreements.