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  1. Technology
January 24, 1989


By CBR Staff Writer

Unisys Corp claims that first day orders for its new Micro A desktop mainframe, unveiled last week (CI No 1,097) are strong, in three digits certainly, with the biggest single order being for 50 of the things from Banco del Atlantico of Mexico. Marking the successful completion of a two year internal development programme, Unisys claims that with the Micro A, it can now offer the smallest and cheapest mainframe in the world. Feat The technological feat behind the claim is the reduction of the entire Unisys A Series architecture, including its MCP/AS operating system, to a 2 by 2, 10-layer ceramic chip package known as the Single Chip A Series Mainframe Processor or Scamp, using CMOS technology to the equivalent of 10.3m transistors. In addition, the company insists that the Micro A out-performs its A Series A1 entry-level model, and competes vigorously against other obvious market rivals – models B10 and B20 of IBM’s AS/400 family, and the DEC MicroVAX II and MicroVAX 2000. The new desk top mainframe, housed within the Unisys Personal Workstation Model 800, combines the 48-bit Scamp processor surrounded with 2.5Mb static RAM, with 12Mb of main memory and an input-output controller, on a standard AT-bus board that plugs in alongside the 80386 processor board. The 80386 processor has 1Mb on board and another 2Mb on a separate board, as well as its own 20Mb Winchester which is used to store the and OS/2 operating system and Micro A server software – and there’s also an Enhanced Graphics Adaptor board. Connection to a maximum of seven peripheral devices is provided via a Small Computer System Interface or SCSI board, which comes complete with a 280Mb disk drive and 150Mb cartridge tape. The Micro A also features a data communications subsystem, housed on a DCHA Data Communications Host Adaptor board provided by Emulex Corp. The DCHA is an 80286-based co-processor board with 512Kb of memory, which supports up to four separate lines and three communication protocols concurrently, providing SNA and X25 links to other systems and networks. A maximum eight lines are supported by adding a second DCHA board. The system is a true in-house affair, with all manufacturing currently confined to the company’s Rancho Bernardo semiconductor site in California. Accuracy In developing Scamp, we took an unprecedented step by going directly from the system’s functional specifications to the software that laid out the chip for fabrication, says Hollis Caswell, president of the Unisys Computer Systems Group, adding that as a result of eliminating usual logic drawings and related hand work, the design period was dramatically shortened, and the project was completed in less than two years – with design accuracy increased to the extent that the first version Scamp chip set met all design specifications without hardware modification. As to performance, Unisys concedes that the use of the 16-bit AT bus has forced it to slow down the speed of the MCP/AS operating system. Out-perform Nevertheless, in a series of RAMP-C benchmark tests designed to verify a two second response time and 70% processor usage, Unisys claims that the Micro A out-performed IBM’s AS/400 B20 by 8%, and the B10 by as much as 40%. As a quick guide, Unisys says that when supporting 16 concurrent on-line users and another three doing development, the Micro A performs at the average rate of 10,000 transactions an hour. Moreover, it can also be used as a 16MHz 80386-based personal computer running OS/2 – and guesting MS-DOS applications if required, when the Micro A CPU is not being used. It can’t run OS/2 applications concurrently with MCP ones – when MCP is running, OS/2 is too preoccupied providing it with service. Speaking at the launch, A Series Entry Level Systems senior marketing manager Simon Joles said that the Micro A offered, a mainframe – functionality – at – micro – prices alternative to the mini-computer marketplace. Worldwide, Unisys says the $25,000-to-$99,000 sector has garnered some 1m users, and is forecast to grow at an annual 14% between now and 1991, all

of which, based on sales of the earlier entry level A Series mainframes, leads Unisys to believe the Micro A could capture as much as 40% of its sales from new users. In the UK, Unisys plans to target the Micro A at its existing A Series user base, where it looks for a significant of sales of 40 to 50 Micro As at a time. New business According to Unisys marketing chief Simon Joles, the A-series user base has grown by 40% over the last four years, with some 40% of customers generated by new business. In addition, Unisys is negotiating with a number of unspecified third party resellers, with particular emphasis being placed on the provision of increased automation capabilities. According to Joles, how ever, the introduction last year of a Menu Assisted Resource Control or MRAC facility across the MCP range, means that ease of-use is an issue which has already been tackled. Long-term, Joles anticipates that the majority of the systems sold will be used on self-supporting, remote site basis. Indeed, key Micro A selling points include its distributed pro-cessing potential, together with its ability to re-duce costs by enabling application development to take place away from the mainframe. UK price for the Micro A is UKP25,000, which includes pre-loaded operating system software, and the Linc II applications generator. In the US, the Micro A costs $20,365 with CPU, keyboard and monochrome monitor and the extended term plan licence for the MCP-AS operating system is $5,000 and includes Microsoft’s OS/2.

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