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IBM debuts cheaper workstations

New Windows NT machines are offered to attract users who want the power of a workstation but not performance overkill.

NEW YORK--IBM formally rolled out its new class of Windows NT workstations, the E Pro series, in an attempt to attract users who want the power of a workstation but not performance overkill.

In the near future, IBM will also introduce a new line of NT workstations containing the upcoming Xeon processor.

The Intellistation E Pro series incorporates the latest 350-MHz and 400-MHz Pentium II processors from Intel, like IBM's M Pro series. The difference comes in the other componentry, said Satish Gupta, vice president and general manager for workstations at IBM.

Rather than use hard drives that run at 10,000 rpms like the M Pro, the E Pro has drives that run at 7,200 rpm. The E Pro also comes with less elaborate graphics systems and fewer drive bays.

"A lot of customers were telling us that this [the M Pro] is a bit of overkill for their applications," Gupta said. "This is not for financial people doing economic modeling, but analysts. People working in publishing, but not, for example, video editing.

"They want performance, but they want it at a lower price," he said.

Potential customers generally come in two classes: Those who do not run applications that require huge amounts of hardware, and those customers who use complex applications in a less-intense way than other users, Gupta said.

The E Pro starts at $2,700 with a minimum configuration that includes a 350-MHz Pentium II, 64MB of memory, and a 4.5GB drive.

Another important difference between the M and E Pro lines comes in the graphics components. The M Pro line employs 3D graphics subsystems from Intergraph. The E Pro uses either a 2D graphics subsystem from Matrox or 3DLabs.

Gupta said that the company would announce another new series of workstations when Intel releases the first Xeon processors, expected to occur on June 29. The first Xeon workstation processors will run at 400 MHz and contain 512K or 1MB of performance-enhancing cache memory. The cache will also communicate to the processor at the same speed as the processor, an enhancement over standard Pentium II processors.

Yesterday, IBM gave a sneak preview of its upcoming Xeon servers. IBM will announce Netfinity servers containing up to four Xeon processors commensurate with the release, releasing both new servers containing the chip as well as processor and chipset upgrade kits. With these, customers will be able to convert their current Netfinity 5500 and 7000 servers to Xeon.

IBM will also release clustering units that will allow customers to team servers together for greater performance.

The Xeon servers will be capable of 22,000 transactions per minute, said Jim Daly, Netfinity marketing manager. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

Daly added that IBM will not come out with eight-way severs using Xeon until the first quarter of 1999 because neither the chipsets for eight-way processing nor Windows 5.0 will be out until then. Compaq Computer, however, will try to release an eight-way server by the end of the year, said Mary McDowell, an executive in the server products division at Compaq.