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September 6, 1988

SOLBOURNE AND MATSUSHITA OUTLINE THEIR SPARC SUPERWORKSTATION PLANS

By CBR Staff Writer

The workstation market is not yet too crowded to allow in anotherplayer, at least not according to newcomer Solbourne Computer Inc, Longmont, Colorado which revealed plans last week to launch a low cost range of superworkstations based on a highly integrated implementation of Sun’s Sparc chip (CI No 1,004). In fact, the company has been working on the project for some time under the name SAE Inc, with funding and backing from Japanese industrial giant Matsushita Electric Industrial Co: it began working on the project back at the beginning of 1987, and replaced whatever proprietary arithmetic logic unit it originally had in mind with Sun’s Sparc at a later stage. Solbourne says it will be launching workstations early next year, based on the version of the Sparc it has designed with development and manufacturing assistance from Matsushita: the chip will combine 32-bit integer processor, floating point processor, instruction and data caches, and memory management unit all on a single chip, along with 64-bit data path width to speed the flow of data between memory and microprocessor. Few further details are forthcoming at this stage. But the family of workstations built around the chip will support multiprocessors, and will be pitched at products such as the Sun-4, Apollo Series 10000, HP 9000 Model 835, and Silicon Graphics 4D machines – becoming the first Sparc products to compete directly with Sun’s own. According to Solbourne marketing manager Brian Doyle the integration of the processor will allow Solbourne to achieve the lower cost necessary for high volume sales. The price sensitivity point is around $15,000 per workstation, said Doyle. Sparc Applications Binary Interface-compatible software would give the machines a range of ready-to-run applications, according to Doyle. Matsushita is expected to sell the products in Japan, leaving Solbourne to concentrate on the US and European markets. And use of a 64-bit bus raises the intriguing question – will the next generation Sparc which Texas Instruments is helping Sun to develop be a 64-bit processor? The Japanese working on the Tron project are convinced that 32 bits won’t be enough for the applications of the early 1990s, and have designed the Tron processor to be widened out to 64 bits at the first opportunity. And with the Japanese now thoroughly involved with the Sparc, if Sun doesn’t make the move, they very well may pre-empt the Mountain View firm.

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