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Compaq debuts low-end workstation

Once the province of Unix vendors, the workstation market has been inundated by PC makers using Intel chips and the Windows NT operating system.

Compaq (CPQ) continued its onslaught on the workstation market today by releasing the Professional Workstation 5100, a Pentium II-based workstation starting at under $3,500 without monitor.

Once the exclusive province of Unix vendors, the workstation market since last year has been inundated by computer makers using Intel processors and the Windows NT operating system. While NT workstations still lack the functionality and performance of some of the higher-end Unix offerings, they cost close to half as much, an appeal that hasn't been lost on customers.

According to most analysts, NT workstation sales have been growing rapidly over the past 10 months while Unix sales have remained relatively flat.

Further, because Windows NT is gaining ground as a network operating system, NT-based workstations can bring down overall costs further by simplifying administration.

"A number of our customers are major Fortune 200 companies with 7,000 to 10,000 seats of Unix. A number of them do not want to extend it," said Wayne Flournoy, director of engineering for workstations at Compaq.

So far, most customers have come from the financial market and the computer-aided arena, he said.

The 5100 supports one or two 266-MHz or 300-MHz Pentium II microprocessors as well as up to 512MB of memory. The system comes with a 24X CD-ROM, five PCI and ISA expansion slots, and Windows NT 4.0. Among other options, users can include the Gloria-XL graphics board from Elsa for 3D graphics.

While most customers run Windows NT on these types of systems, a smattering of customers run Sun's Solaris OS on them, said Flournoy. Compaq supports the operating system, since customers are reluctant to rush off of the platform.

The new workstation essentially replaces the Professional Workstation 5000, a Pentium Pro-based desktop which will be phased out in the first quarter of next year. Introduced in October, the 5000 was part of the first line of Compaq workstations.