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Sun's workstations do Windows

Sun will sell a $495 expansion card that boosts its effort to keep its Unix-based workstations compatible with the Windows world.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Oil and water mix better than Sun Microsystems and Microsoft, but Sun has a new product to help people run Windows machines inside Sun workstations.

Expanding an effort to keep its Unix-based workstations compatible with the Windows world, Sun Microsystems tomorrow will start selling a $495 expansion card that lets a person plug a PC into Sun's Ultra workstations.

The SunPCi card, though an acknowledgment of the prevalence of Windows in the workplace, is no Wintel clone. It comes with an AMD K6-2 processor running at a speed of 300 MHz and Caldera's DR-DOS operating system.

"Sun is not a channel for Microsoft products," said Craig Miller, Sun's senior product marketing manager for PC interoperability.

"For those who saw Microsoft Office as a checkbox on their requirement list," the SunPCi card means the users won't have to leave their Sun systems behind, Miller said. Sun workstation users can continue to use their Unix software while being able to use standard office productivity applications such as Microsoft Excel.

Sun has been selling the older SunPC cards for three years.

The two computers will run side by side in the same box, with Windows using either a separate display or appearing as a separate window within the Sun machine's display system.

Sun chose the AMD chip for the new SunPCi card because its Socket 7 connection makes it less bulky than Intel's Celeron or Pentium II chips, Miller said.

Sun already has been offering a card that offered a PC inside Sun workstations, but that card, called SunPC, used a slower AMD 5x86 chip running at 133 MHz, and it used Sun's S-bus to connect instead of the PCI bus more common today.

But the new card represents a different strategy for making Sun workstations able to use Windows software, said Peter ffoulkes, an analyst with Dataquest.

Sun is treating the card essentially as a "bug fix," he said. The card's low price shows that Sun's philosophy is to sell a cheap fix to make sure they don't lose a workstation customer to the Wintel world. In the old days, the card was seen as an added feature that let a person run PC software. "It's not adding value to the workstation. It's removing a reason for people not to buy it," ffoulkes said.

Sun has realized that in the low-end workstation market, Wintel machines are good enough and considerably less expensive than Unix boxes, ffoulkes said. Sun, with its Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 workstations, is trying to keep up with the six-month product cycles and fast production of the Wintel world. "They've accepted that the rules have changed, and they're playing by the new rules," ffoulkes said.

PC workstations with Windows NT and Intel chips are increasingly popular; Unix stalwart Silicon Graphics has added Windows NT machines to its product lineup. In the workstation market, Hewlett-Packard, which sells Unix and Windows NT workstations, shipped more machines than Sun, but Sun, with its more expensive and higher-powered machines, culled more revenue.

Dell Computer, though, is close on the heels of HP, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.

And Compaq has added variety to the field with its new Alpha 21264-based workstations, which run Windows NT but spurn Intel CPUs.

The SunPCi card, originally was expected by the end of 1998, is shipping in volume now, Miller said. It comes with between 64 and 256 MB of RAM, Sound Blaster sound, serial and parallel ports, a Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, and 24-bit graphics, Miller said. Special software will allow the PC and the Sun to exchange information and will let the PC use the workstation's hard disk network connection.

The card lets the PC use the Sun workstation's hard disk, CD-ROM, floppy disk, and network connection. A user can cut and paste between programs running on the two different operating systems. Key to the connection is an Intel chip that bridges the PCI buses of the two machines, Miller said.

The card comes with a CD-ROM that includes software Sun wrote so the two computers can communicate. The software works on DOS 3.1 or later or Windows 95, and Sun is working on one that will work with Windows NT.