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  1. Technology
October 9, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

In an attempt to level the proverbial playing field, Sun Microsystems Inc is this week expected to make good on its promises to license its current hardware technology to independent Sparcsystem builders. Said to operating under the aegis of Sparc International, Milpitas, California-based LSI Logic Corp and Santa Clara chip newcomer Tera Microsystems Inc will be the conduits for reselling the LSI-made 40MHz standard Sun has used in the SparcStation 2 for the past year and again more recently in the IPX. For a premium price, Sun’s prized GX graphics accelerator will also be merchandised by LSI. Tera, on the other hand, will be pushing Sunnyvale-based Weitek Corp’s more affordable graphics under a newly forged US-Europe-Far East co-marketing alliance the pair have arranged. As a result, Tera will essentially have two product lines: LSI’s and its own microCore, a four-chip set including system, input-output, SBus and video display controllers. The Tera-Weitek combine will enable these companies to talk about having a complete chip set once Tera’s SBus and video display parts are ready in the first quarter of next year. LSI still lacks floating point capability. Tera and Weitek will be touting their joint chip set – Weitek is bringing its Sparc CPU and graphics controller to the party – as cheaper, higher performing and better integrated than anything else available. Tera’s integration cuts the number of chips needed to build a SparcStation 2 to twenty-eight down from the 70 Sun itself uses. According to Tera’s calculations, a cloner could put a complete SparcStation 2-lookalike on the market priced 40% under Sun or $9,000 versus Sun’s current $15,000 list. The $9,000 figure includes a roughly 50% margin. The cost of the 40MHz, simulated 21 SPECmark Tera-Weitek chip set will be between $700 and $900 in volumes of 1,000-up, Tera said, with the 25MHz around $600 in the same quantities.

Bad blood among the cloners

Apparently the companies do not intend to demand higher volumes for reasonable prices, a trap LSI fell into with its original Sparckits, creating bad blood among the cloners that bought at the 5,000-unit price and now have excess inventory that has also seriously devalued in the wake of LSI price cuts. Access to the basic silicon has been a serious stumbling block for the Sparcsystem builders since they started to try to bring clones to market. Staying apace of Sun’s performance – let alone exceeding it – has proved impossible for the lower end cloners without the technology to do so. Tera and Weitek are forecasting three possible market niches their technology could service: upgradeable colour SparcStation 2 with accelerated graphics, entry-level colour workstations and low-cost monochrome workstations. Notebooks are also mentioned. Tera has Interactive Service and Technologies Division doing an implementation of Solaris 1.0 for the device. Although this is the division SunSoft is leaving behind in its Interactive Systems Corp acquisition, it appears that its technology licensing agreement with Service & Technologies will give SunSoft rights to distribute the Tera Solaris. Neither Weitek or Tera are forecasting highly significant volumes from the cloners, knowing that the real meat and potatoes order must come from Sun itself, a potential customer Tera must woo. The rumoured royalty Sun is demanding for its GX graphics technology is in the region of $150 – and that’s without the thing being built: a finished Weitek piece costs about $160. Tera was established with venture capital from LSI Logic itself and from Hewlett-Packard Co, and now has Mitsubishi Corp as a shareholder (CI No 1,744).

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