Compaq's workstation prospects good

Compaq appears poised to become a significant player in the workstation market.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read
Compaq Computer's (CPQ) new workstations built around Intel's Pentium Pro processor and Microsoft's Windows NT operating system should make the number-one PC vendor a significant player in the workstation market, according to analysts.

The "Compaq Professional Workstations" are aimed at engineering, creative-content, and financial professionals, the company said.

Compaq and International Data Corporation (IDC) both believe that Compaq is getting into the right market at the right time: IDC forecasts the Windows NT workstation market growing at 44 percent a year through the year 2000. Moreover, Windows NT workstations are expected to outship Unix workstations in 1997, according to IDC.

Some workstation resellers admit that Compaq and other PC companies are making strides in workstations. "[PC vendors] are definitely nipping at the heels of Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics," said one major West Coast reseller.

Analysts are especially upbeat about Compaq's prospects. "It is not a question of whether Compaq will be a significant player, the question is how significant and how soon," said Peter ffoulkes, an analyst with Dataquest.

"Basically they've got a good product. Not too different, priced well and aggressively, and more importantly, they understand this marketplace. They've done the research to find out what to do to sell effectively, to find out what customers want and what matters to them, and also what markets will likely buy Windows NT," added ffoulkes.

All models come standard with one or two 200-MHz Pentium Pro processors, Windows NT Workstation 4.0 (3.51 is also available), a Wide-Ultra SCSI controller, up to 512MB of ECC DIMM memory, an 8X CD-ROM drive, and an integrated network interface card.

The 2D graphics models include a Matrox Millennium accelerator card with 2MB of Windows RAM, up to 64MB of standard memory, and a hard drive with up to 4GB of capacity. Prices for these systems range from $4,300 to $5,300.

Models packing high-performance 3D graphics subsystems, for applications requiring fast shading and texture mapping, come with an ELSA GLoria-L graphics controller. The 3D models come with one or two Pentium Pro processors, up to 128MB of standard memory, a 3-button mouse, and a 4GB hard drive.

The dual processor system "is optimized for multitasking and multithreaded applications that perform CPU-intensive tasks" Compaq said. These workstations range in price from $8,200 to $10,200.

However, ffoulkes cautioned that few workstation applications today make use of multiple processors. Some very high-end visualization work does, but at this point, very few do, he said.

In order to shore up software application support, Compaq has formed alliances with engineering and financial workstation software vendors, providing them with test systems "to ensure the Compaq Professional Workstations are optimized and certified to run a wide range of technically demanding, mission-critical applications," it said.

CAD (Computer-aided Design) software vendors include Autodesk, Bentley, Parametric Technology Corporation, Structural Dynamic Resources Corporation, and EDS Unigraphics. These products target 2D and 3D mechanical designs, drawings, and analysis.

Financial software vendors include the MarketNet Group and Dow Jones Telerate, which deliver financial information via multiple live feeds to brokers and analysts, Compaq said.

Compaq has also worked with Softimage, which has certified the 3D graphics subsystem in the Compaq workstations with applications from vendors such as Adobe Systems.

But despite all these alliances, resellers say that Compaq still has a ways to go in matching the range of applications available to traditional Unix workstation users.

Moreover, one reseller adds that "Sun workstations are built to be networked, while PC workstations have typically been standalone systems."

Compaq is trying to address this issue. The Compaq workstations also ship with management and networking tools, allowing the systems to be networked in small workgroups or integrated into a large distributed enterprise, the company said.

Dataquest's ffoulkes agrees that Compaq is working hard on this aspect of its workstation solution. "They also understand that there are a lot of systems where there are already Unix products, so they must be able to connect," he said.