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  1. Technology
September 30, 1998


By CBR Staff Writer

Though Silicon Graphics Inc reigns supreme in the high end graphics arena, Hewlett-Packard Co could not resist the lure of another assault on this lucrative market, despite being burned before. Instead of just buying out SGI, HP has launched a slew of new workstation-based immersive 2D/3D packages aimed at the automobile and aerospace industries. The HP Visualize Center is powered by three J2240 Unix workstations, each with two 236MHz PA RISC PA 8200 processors. The Center has three Visualize fx6 graphics boards. The mid-range HP Visualize Workgroup3D system runs off one J2240 with three fx4 graphics card. The low-end system, the 2D only, Workgroup2D has 3 Visualize EG graphics boards. Each system comes with up to 4Gb RAM and 18Gb RAM of internal storage and three 21-inch monitors. However, the thinking behind the immersive systems is that, apart from the low end model, companies purchase Panoram Technologies Inc’s displays to go with their Visualize systems from the 28’4 x 8’8 auditorium curved display down to the 10′ x 3′ ViewStation-36 – all of the screens have a 4.8 million pixel resolution (4000 x 1200). HP have included synchronization software that handles those 4.8m pixels for a smoother display. HP claims that the systems offer transparent support for the OpenGL API through HP’s own 3DSLS API. Despite this new foray into SGI territory, HP has subtly pulled back from the extreme high end graphics market, after its PixelFusion/PxFl misadventure (CI No 3,199; 3,161), and admitted that SGI has market sewn up and there just isn’t room for two. What HP is stressing is the upgradability and price point of its new systems. HP says that a manufacturing company will be able to buy its PA 8200-powered Visualize Center and then smoothly upgrade to PA RISC 8500-based workstations and replace the previous workstations, farming them out to individual engineers. The same holds true when HP makes the leap to IA-64 architecture, the company is claiming full binary compatibility for the next generation workstations. However, it has not yet tested IA-64 prototypes with the Visualize systems. HP says that it has already shown the Visualize system to major European car manufacturers and also has an appointment to demonstrate the systems to Nissan next week. The systems support industry standard software such as Division’s dVISE. However, despite abdicating from the extreme high-end graphics market, HP still knows who the competition is in this multi-billion dollar industry. HP is marketing its Visualize Center as competition for SGI’s Oynx2 Infinite Reality system, claiming that its product offers at least equivalent if not better performance at half the price. The HP Visualize Center base system costs $208,500 and the recommended accompanying Panowall 90 25 foot display costs $285,000. The systems can go cheaper or more expensive depending on screen size and number of processors. However, SGI’s Oynx2 product line manager, Janet Matsuda, derided the notion that the Infinite Reality systems were more expensive. While admitting that the systems could get very expensive – in the $1m ballpark – she said that the entry-level system was $300,000 with the display. She also claimed that HP had fudged the technical issues around immersive CAD/CAM systems, claiming that HP had cludged together 3 computers that were never designed to work together, while SGI offered a scalable, one piece system. The HP Visualize systems are available now.

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