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Sun speeds top-end server, cuts price

The company begins selling a faster version of its top-end 64-processor E10000 server a year later than expected and cuts prices on the earlier model.

Sun Microsystems has begun selling a faster version of its top-end 64-processor E10000 server a year later than expected and has cut prices on the earlier model.

The high-end system uses 466MHz UltraSparc II chips, resulting in a system that is about 16 percent faster than the earlier 400MHz models, the Palo Alto, Calif., server seller said Tuesday. The faster chips also are available on the midrange 3500, 4500, 5500 and 6500 servers.

Sun has had tremendous success with its E10000 "Starfire" server, a design that the company bought from Cray in the mid-1990s. Sun has sold more than 5,000 of the servers, which typically cost more than $1 million apiece and are used for running large databases. The high-end model helped Sun find a place in very large businesses and race ahead of IBM and Hewlett-Packard to lead the Unix server market.

However, there have been potholes on the road. According to a Sun schedule seen by CNET News.com, the company had planned to debut the upgraded E10000 in July 2000. Sun has been struggling with a problem that afflicted high-speed "cache" memory that caused unexpected reboots. And the demise of the dot-com mania has dented sales.

Sun cut prices on the 400MHz models as much as 15 percent and announced an upgrade plan for current customers.

New high-end servers are on the way. In September, Sun is scheduled to unveil its new top-end "StarCat" server, models of which sources say can accommodate 72 or 108 of the new UltraSparc III processors. The company plans to keep selling its older E10000 "Starfire" machines, though, which can run the still-popular version 2.6 and version 7 of Sun's Solaris operating system. StarCat requires Solaris 8.

Sun, though, faces competition from Fujitsu Technology Solutions, which already has a 128-processor server of its own. In addition, better-established rival HP began selling its high-end Superdome in January, while IBM is preparing to release its Regatta server this fall.