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Sun lowers workstation prices

The company will also roll out a new low-end system, part of a strategy to make them more competitive with Windows NT workstations.

Sun Microsystems will introduce a new low-end Ultra 5 workstation tomorrow and lower the prices on existing members of the Ultra 10 lineup in an effort to make the machines more competitive with workstations running Windows NT.

The Ultra 5 and 10 workstations, which came out in January, have been instrumental in boosting Sun's workstation sales this year, according to analysts. The workstations differ from Sun's more advanced workstations in that they use an integrated version of the UltraSparc II chip, called the UltraSparc IIi, which fuses the processor core with a memory controller.

Integration cuts the overall system price, although the integrated chips are not available at the same speeds as ordinary UltraSparc II processors. Sun also sells these workstations only through Sun's Web site, not its partners.

The new Ultra 5, the Model 333, will feature the higher-speed 333-MHz UltraSparc IIi chip just like a current version of the Ultra 10 siblings, but It won't come with the Ultra 10 expandability or 3D graphics capability, said Steve Griegory, marketing manager for the workstations. Pricing for the Model 333 will begin at $3,695.

The Ultra 10 line, targeted for graphics-intensive applications such as mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD) or 3D animation, meanwhile was dropped in price. The Ultra 10 Model 333 gets a $200 price cut from $4,495 to $4,295, but the higher-performance Ultra 10 Model 360 drops $2,600 from $10,595 to $7,995.

Sun also cut prices on some of the video hardware that ships with the workstations, said Bjorn Andersson, who manages Sun's graphics and multimedia product line. The move is in response to increased demand for 3D applications, especially in computer-aided design.

The top-of-the-line graphics card, the Elite 3D M6, got a 31 percent price cut from $7,285 to $4,995, Andersson said, and the midrange Elite 3D M3 was cut 25 percent from $4,530 to $3,395. The entry-level Creator 3D card was cut 13 percent from $1,380 to $1,195.

All the cards plug into Sun's Ultraport Architecture (UPA), a pipeline that lets data flow from the processor to the video board as fast as 950MB/sec. In comparison, the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) technology used on new Intel machines is capable of 400MB/sec, Griegory said.

Sun also is lowering the prices of the monitors it sells with its systems. The 21-inch model has been reduced from $1,650 to $1,500. And with the 17-inch monitor's price down from $710 to $480, an entry-level Sun workstation now can be bought, monitor and all, for less than $3,000, Andersson said.