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New HP workstations face Dell surge

HP will release three new Windows NT-based workstations based around 350-MHz and 400-MHz Pentium II chips next week.

Hewlett-Packard will release three new Windows NT-based workstations based around 350-MHz and 400-MHz Pentium II chips next week as part of its effort to stave off a new threat from Dell.

HP shipped more Intel/NT-based workstations in 1997 than any other vendor but was hit by inventory problems and a surge of shipments from Dell in the first quarter, said Tom Copeland, an analyst at International Data Corporation.

"Dell in general had a good quarter, while Compaq and HP had to deal with channel issues," he said.

HP, which has the broadest product line, is still the front-runner but the competition has inched closer, according to Peter ffoulkes, workstation analyst at Dataquest. A good portion of HP's sales also came through the Kayak XA series, HP's value workstation segment.

"HP still sits happily on top of the Intel pile by our definition, but Dell has done pretty well," ffoulkes said. "You are going to see a lot of changes in this area."

The workstations arriving next week will span three HP lines: the Kayak XA, XU, and XW.

The Kayak XA-s will be the first of the XA series to be capable of running two processors, said Kathleen Tandy, North American product marketing manager for Kayak workstations at HP. Starting at a base price of $2,200, the XA-s comes with a 350-MHz or 400-MHz Pentium II processor, up to 768MB of memory, and a Productiva G100 graphics board from Matrox.

The Kayak XU workstations come with the Matrox Millennium II graphics board and greater expandability for memory and hard drives. Typical XU configurations run in the $4,000 range.

HP has also included the new chips in its high-end XW workstations. These workstations, which typically cost $7,000 or more, include the Visualize fx4 graphics subsystem first developed for HP's Unix workstations, Tandy said. XU and XW workstations are capable of running one or two processors.

Most systems in all three lines also feature a fast system bus, which enables the processor to communicate with components at 100 MHz, compared to the 66-MHz speed used in most PCs and workstations today.

In the second half of the year, these systems will be followed by workstations based around the "Slot 2" Xeon chips. While Xeon processors for workstations will run at the same speeds as upcoming Pentium II chips, workstations running Xeon chips will be capable of using four, rather than two, processors. The bus connecting the processor and the secondary "cache" memory will also run at the same speed as the processor, double the speed of standard Slot 1 Pentium II chips. This is expected to boost performance by speeding up the delivery of data to the processor.

Performance aside, Xeon-based processors will likely remain a minority in the NT workstation world at least in the short term because of higher prices.

"You are not going to be able to find a Slot 2 workstation for under $6,000 to $7,000," Tandy said. ""Slot 1 will continue to be the majority of NT workstation sales."