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Sun, HP plug new workstations

Each company announces two new workstations, both in an effort to increase its leading positions in this market.

Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard each announced two new workstations this week in their ongoing competition for the bragging rights to the No. 1 spot in the workstation market.

Sun continues to hold the No. 1 market-share position for Unix workstations, followed closely by HP. However, HP is the market leader when sales of Unix and Windows NT workstations are combined.

Sun, which does not make NT workstations, has tried to blunt that sector's sales with new, cheaper Unix units. It also claims that many of the NT units are really just jazzed-up desktop computers, but HP and others are enhancing their NT wares with graphics and other technology developed on Unix workstations.

Sun released a new version of its Ultra 10 workstation, a lower-priced workstation series designed to compete against Intel/Windows NT machines, as well as a four-processor Ultra 450 workstation that will allow the company to enter markets previously dominated by sagging Silicon Graphics.

HP, meanwhile, previewed its first Xeon workstation and described a Xeon workstation that will adopt graphics technology from the company's Unix machines.

Sun's new Ultra 10 workstation comes with a 333-MHz UltraSparc II(i) and the Sun Elite3D graphics processor. The Ultra 10 line was introduced in January along with Ultra 5 line as a cost-conscious Unix alternative to Windows workstations. Its economical price partly stems from the fact that the UltraSparc II(i) is an integrated processor.

Basic configurations include the 333-MHz UltraSparc II(i) processor, 128MB of memory, and a 4GB hard drive and cost $11,645. Earlier versions of the Ultra 10 topped out at 300-MHz.

The Ultra 450, by contrast, aims at the high end of the workstation market. Containing up the four 300-MHz UltraSparc II processors and 180GB of memory, the new system will be aimed at computing-intensive markets such as oil and gas exploration, said Peter ffoulkes, workstation analyst at Dataquest.

"This gets them into markets and places where NT workstations don't go yet and where SGI is vulnerable," he said.

Meanwhile, HP announced its first Xeon-based workstations. The Kayak XU, to be released in August, contains a 400-MHz Xeon processor, 128MB of memory and a 4.5GB/10,000 rpm hard disk for a starting price of $4,999.

The XU will be capable of running two Xeon processors, and in September, HP will come out with a version incorporating the 450-MHz Xeon chip, due the same month, said Kathleen Tandy, North American product manager for HP NT workstations.

In contrast to Dell, HP will emphasize Xeon chips with 512K of secondary cache memory but not the 1MB version. "We found only a slight performance benefit with the 1MB," she said. Customers can get the 1MB chip, however, upon request.

In October, HP will follow with an XW workstation containing Xeon processors and a Visualize fx6 graphics unit, which was initially developed for HP's Unix workstations. "There is still more performance on the Unix boxes, but this is narrowing," Tandy said.

These machines will likely be mostly sold with the 450-MHz version of Xeon and cost approximately $12,000.