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Sun debuts lower-end servers

Sun Microsystems releases the newest models in its effort to provide computers using its own chips that are competitive with those using Intel's.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems released new lower-end servers Wednesday, the newest models in its effort to provide computers using its own chips that are competitive with those using Intel's.

The Sun Fire V440, with up to four 1.06GHz UltraSparc IIIi "Jalapeno" processors, has a starting price of $9,995 for a two-processor model with 4GB of memory, said Neil Knox, executive vice president of Sun's Volume System Products group. Filling all four processor slots and bumping to 8GB of memory pushes the price to $15,995.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company announced the products at its SunNetwork conference here.

Sun also introduced a new version of an older product, the two-processor V250 that shares the same standalone tower design as the Enterprise 250 introduced in 1998. The price difference between the new and the old machine--$2,995 for the V250 model compared with $9,995 for its forebear--illustrates the pressure that increasingly capable Intel-based systems have put on the company.

"It shows we're focused very much on packaging more and more bang for the buck in the systems," Knox said. "We show the customer a selection of technology at a very aggressive price at or below Wintel," he said, referring to the servers using Microsoft Windows and Intel.

After years selling servers with only UltraSparc processors, Sun has bowed to market realities and accepted into its product line "x86" servers--those using processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. The most popular operating system on Sun's x86 servers is Linux, a cousin to the Solaris version of Unix that Sun prefers to sell, Knox said.

Although Sun is evaluating selling four-processor Intel servers, thus far it's selling only dual-processor machines. AMD processors will arrive later this year when Sun begins selling thin x86 "blade" servers; the company already sells UltraSparc blades.

Sun argues it hasn't lost its focus. Rather, it's expanded its focus beyond just hardware to a complete package of hardware and software. That software, code-named Orion and now called the Java Enterprise System, will ultimately run on all Sun's servers, regardless of chip or operating system.

Sun also brought a faster 1.2GHz UltraSparc III to the V880, an eight-processor model that has sold well but heretofore came with only 900MHz chips. And the company released a new workstation, the single-processor Sun Blade 1500, with a starting price of $2,995. The 1500 is based on the V240 "Enchilada" server Sun announced in April but had to delay because of a component problem.

Sun had much of the server market to itself in the late 1990s but has struggled with market share losses since then.