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  1. Technology
July 23, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

Sun makes overt pitch at the commercial market with new bottom end Sparcstations…

Confirming that the performance of Unix workstation technology is more or less doubling every year, and that the company is getting serious about the commercial market, Sun Microsystems Inc this week wheeled out go-faster versions of its year-old, low-end IPC and diskless SLC workstations, (CI No 1,720). The Sparcstation IPX – essentially a Sparcstation 2 – uses 40MHz Sparc parts sourced from Fujitsu Ltd and with floating point unit from Weitek Corp and is rated at 28.5 MIPS, 4.2 MFLOPS and 24.2 SPECmarks, the same performance mark as the original Sparcstation 2 box. The integer units are identical to those in the Cypress Semiconductor Corp Sparc chip set, while the floating point co processors are the same as the Texas Instruments Inc 602A – both used in the Sparcstation 2. It comes with from 16Mb to 64Mb RAM, the GX graphics accelerator, 207Mb disk, floppy drive, two Sbus slots, SCSI, Ethernet, serial ports and a choice of 17 grey scale or 16 colour monitors. The GX accelerator has been shrunk from a board-size add-on to a single chip mounted on the CPU board, freeing up one of the two Sbus slots it previously used. The IPC, which is rated at 15.8 MIPS, 1.7 MFLOPS and 10 SPECmarks is not being phased out immediately: Sun has reduced the price and put in place an aggressive trade-in programme for the box. The ELC – which replaces the SLC – comes with a 33MHz Sparc CPU, again from Fujitsu or Weitek, goes to 21 MIPS, 3 MFLOPS and 20.1 SPECmarks. It comes with from 8Mb to 64Mb RAM, SCSI, Ethernet and serial ports on a board that fits into the back of a 17 monochrome monitor. While the performance of workstation technology is going skywards, prices in the increasingly competitive market are moving in the opposite direction. The IPX comes in at $12,000 – UKP9,750 in the UK: for $13,500 you get the 16 colour monitor.


A diskless ELC with a 17 monochrome screen is priced at $5,000 UKP4,000 – the same entry price-point as its 12.5 MIPS SLC predecessor: with 207Mb disk the price rises to $6,300, UKP5,000. The Sparcstation 2 series machines are freshened up at the same time, with standard system memory on the workstation increased to 32Mb from 16Mb, 424Mb disks replacing the existing 207Mb drives and new compilers from Kuck & Associates Inc – which are also featured in the IPX and ELC – pushing performance up to 24.7 SPECmarks. Maximum memory is now 128Mb, disk goes to 20.8Gb. A new version of the graphics accelerator, the GXplus, is also included. It delivers a resolution of 1,280 by 1,024 pixels, has double buffering and performs 480,000 two-dimensional and 310,000 three-dimensional vectors per second. Server versions get the same memory upgrades, plus Legato Systems Inc’s Prestoserve Net work File System accelerator implemented on an Sbus board, which is claimed to improve NFS write performance by 85%. Sun’s Sparcstation 2, which made its debut in November, started at $15,000, UKP11,000. The new workstation models with 32Mb RAM, 424Mb disk and 19 monochrome monitor start at UKP13,300; with 32Mb RAM, 424Mb disk, 16 colour monitor and GX accelerator it is UKP15,900; and with 32Mb RAM, 19 colour monitor, 424Mb disk and GXplus accelerator it is UKP19,300. Sparcserver 2 configurations, with 32Mb RAM and 424Mb disk start at UKP12,400. With 32Mb RAM, 19 monochrome screen, 1.7Gb disk, 2.3Gb tape and SunCD it costs UKP20,550; and with 32Mb RAM, 19 monochrome monitor, 3Gb disk, 2.3Gb tape and SCSI adaptor, the price rises to UKP29,500. But its strategy leaves only crumbs for third party Sparcsystem builders In hot pursuit of commercial customers, Sun Microsystems Inc this week kicks off an aggressive, supposedly short-term, promotional campaign whose collateral effect may be to severely damage its supposedly long-term strategy for managing third party Sparcsystem builders. Effective immediately and running until the end of the year – though orders will be taken up to, and possibly beyond March of next year – Sun is offering an IP

C workstation for $7,000. The only difference between it and the usual IPC is a 16 Philips Electronics NV, rather than a 16, 1,152 by 900 Sony Corp colour monitor. The price cut will leave little room for Sparc cloners to manoeuvre, since most of them have failed to add any value to their copies of the Sun machines, and can compete with Sun only on price. With an IPC available worldwide and fully discountable at a $7,000 price point, the promised wave of Sparcstation 1-compatibles could evaporate. Indeed Sun claims already to have sold some 120,000 of the things since they were launched last year. To make matters worse for the cloners, Sun is also instituting a special trade-in programme aimed at its ins talled base and users of competitive machines. For $6,000, cus tomers can trade in an old Sun-3 or 386i box, Unix systems from IBM Corp – the RS/6000 320H and 330H; Hewlett-Packard Co’s Apollo DN3000, DN3500, DN4000, DN4500, HP 9000 720, 400dl, 400t, 425t, 400s, 433s, 425e and 425s; Digital Equipment Corp’s RISC-based DECstation 5000/200, /125, /120 and 3100; or high-end personal computers from IBM – the PS/2 models 70 486, 80 386 A16, 80 386 A31, 90 XP 486 and 90 XP 486-OKD; Compaq Computer Corp’s Deskpro 386/33L and 486/33L, Hewlett-Packard’s Vectra RS/25C, 486PC, 48625T and 486/33T; and Apple Computer Inc’s Macintosh IIfx – and get the same IPC configuration. Sun’s primary intent is not to damage its cloners, says Sun marketing vice-president Larry Hambly. If such an effect occurs, it will merely be a by-product of Sun’s race to lower prices before its larger competitors do, and at the same time radically increase the size of its market. The promotion follows hard on the heels of Sun’s move to bar its resellers from handling any clones except Sparc laptops, a pragmatic business decision that cost Sun a significant amount of bad press and criticism for not being an open company. One of the issues Sun’s latest move raises, but leaves unaddressed, is whether the market will buy hardware at these prices while Unix applications software is still comparatively expensive. Here in the UK, Sun and its dealers are reported to have slashed prices by up to 56% on the IPC to win orders – however, even then, with a tag of only UKP3,000 or so, a firm is still able to make money on sales, it is claimed. Sun’s UK marketing manager John Coon admitted that we do use strategic discounting in some areas, but added that UK resellers are entitled to offer the boxes at whatever price they wished. Some though, are said to have been in receipt of a letter warning them not to discount more than 50%.

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