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Sun aims new 150 workstation at 1 million Ultra users

Claims will outship the whole of HP's Unix line

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

The executives at Sun Microsystems Inc are rubbing their hands together not because it is cold in Palo Alto, but because the new Sun Blade 150 workstation the company will roll out today is a machine that is a very good upgrade option for the users who bought over 1 million of its Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 entry workstations in the past few years,

writes Timothy Prickett-Morgan.

The "Grover" Sun Blade 100 workstations that were announced last year were decent machines that offered some performance enhancements compared to the "Darwin" Ultra 5 machines that were Sun's first real shot back against the onslaught of Wintel and Lintel workstations a few years ago. While the Sun Blade 100s could replace many aging Ultra 5 machines, they could not really replace the more powerful and expandable Ultra 10 workstations. With the advent of the Sun Blade 150s, which offers more main processing and auxiliary graphics processing power than even the Ultra 10s, Sun can now go after that installed base of Ultra 5s and 10s with a vengeance.

The Sun Blade 150 workstations come with either a 550MHz or 650MHz UltraSparc-IIi processor (that is not the "Cheetah" UltraSparc-III, but a modified version of an earlier generation of UltraSparc-II processor aimed at entry workstations and servers). The UltraSparc-IIi processor in the Sun Blade 150 has been equipped with 512KB of on-chip L2 cache memory. The Sun Blade 100s came with a 500MHz UltraSparc-IIe processor (a different variant on the UltraSparc-II design) with 256KB of L2 cache on the chip. So the faster Sun Blade 150 model offers about 30% more clock speed and twice the L2 cache, which results in a SPECinto2000 rating of 246 (41% better than the Sun Blade 100) and a SPECfp2000 rating of 276 (51% better than the Sun Blade 100).

Phil Dunn, product line manager for workstations at Sun, says that for MCAD and other graphics-intensive applications, customers moving to the Sun Blade 150 can see performance that is a 63% to 76% improvement over Sun Blade 100s and Ultra machines, depending on the configuration. The Sun Blade 100s and 150s have space for up to 2GB of main memory and have the same PGX64 on-board 2D graphics cards. For 3D graphics applications, the Sun Blade 100 could be equipped with the optional Expert3D-Lite card from Sun, but the new XVR-500 3D card from Sun for the Sun Blade 150 has twice the graphics processing power. The Sun Blade 150 can be equipped with two 40GB disk drives (twice the capacity of the Sun Blade 100), and comes with Solaris 8 and Star Office 6.0. Solaris 9 is still being certified for many of the technical and graphics applications that Sun customers use on their workstations, which is why the new operating system is not shipped by default on the Sun Blade 150s. Solaris 9 is available as a free upgrade, however, for customers whose applications are ready to roll on Solaris 9.

A base Sun Blade 150 workstation with a 550MHz processor, 40GB of disk, 128MB of memory, and built-in 2D graphics costs $1,395. A base model using the 650MHz processor with 256MB of main memory and the PGX64 2D graphics costs $1,995. A machine with the XVR-500 3D graphics card plus the 650MHz, 512MB of main memory, and a 40GB hard disk sells for $3,395. Dunn says that Sun will ship more Sun Blade 150s than the shipments of rival Hewlett-Packard Co's entire Unix workstation and server line. He says that one of the reasons this will happen is that, according to Sun's math, the Sun Blade 150 is half the price of the comparable B Series 3700 PA-RISC workstation and one third the price of the comparable SGI 3D workstations.

In addition to the Sun Blade 150 debut, Sun will also today announce that it has made 1.05GHz UltraSparc-III+ processors available in its high-end Sun Blade 2000 two-way workstations. The machines were originally announced with 900MHz chips. The Sun Blade 2000 can now be equipped with the XVR-500 3D graphics card, rather than the more powerful and more expensive XVR-1000 card, which lowers the cost of the configured workstation a little for some customers. Sun is now shipping the 1GHz processors in volume, and will allow customers to buy these chips and snap them into existing Sun Blade 1000 and 2000 machines as well. Sun's list price for these 1.05GHz processors is $6,995, but most Sun customers have their own discount schedules and Sun offers a 30% upgrade discount on workstation processors (if they return the older parts to Sun, that is), so the price can come down a bit. Customers with 600MHz and 750MHz UltraSparc-III processors in their Sun Blade workstations can upgrade to the 1.05GHz processors and see a 50% to 70% performance boost without changing anything else in their machines. Even customers with the early generations of the 900MHz UltraSparc-III processors, which had a math bug that degraded performance, can see a 20% performance bump moving to the 1.05GHz UltraSparc-III+ chips.

A Sun Blade 2000 with a 900MHz processor, 1GB of memory, a 73GB disk, a PGX64 graphics card costs $10,995; the machine with two 900MHz processors, 2GB of memory, 73GB of disk and that integrated 2D graphics card costs $15,995. A Sun Blade 2000 with two 1.05GHz processors, 1GB of memory, and the base 2D graphics costs $19,995.

Sun also announced yesterday that it had cut the price on 256MB and 512MB memory DIMMs for the Sun Blade 1000 and Sun Blade 2000 workstations and the Sun Fire 280R servers by 38%, and said further that it expects to deliver 1GB DIMMs sometime later this year. timpm@computerwire.com

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