Sun expands workstation lineup

Sun Microsystems Inc. added a new category to its workstation lineup Wednesday with the launch of the Sun Blade 2000, a high-end system for compute- and graphic-intensive environments.

Described as a “personal visualization system,” the Sun Blade 2000 will be available worldwide from Wednesday with a list price of US$10,995. The workstation is the first in a series of products in a new market category Sun calls Personal Visualization, with users in fields such as defense or medical imaging who need to visualize and analyze complex data.

The Sun Blade 2000 sports dual 64-bit 1.05GHz UltraSPARC III CU processors and the new XVR-1000 3D graphics accelerator, which bring it power that was previously only available in bigger and more expensive systems, Sun said in a statement released at the CeBIT trade show here. Also part of the package is a new 24-inch flat panel display.

A fully-packed Sun Blade 2000 with two UltraSPARC IIIs, 8G bytes of memory and two 73G-byte hard drives will start at $34,995. Sun is releasing this as a “special edition” model, celebrating its 20th anniversary as a workstation vendor.

The 1.05GHz chips are Sun’s fastest to date and, coupled with the graphics tools, could help Sun take market share from Silicon Graphics Inc., according to Fred Kohout, director of marketing for Sun’s technical market products group.

One analyst agreed that Sun has been chipping away at SGI’s workstations sales, and said it will likely continue to do so, but he added that the market for RISC (reduced instruction set computer)-based workstations is dwindling.

“The RISC workstation market is shrinking,” said Pia Rieppo, a workstation analyst with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut. “The last bastion for RISC systems is for really high end applications.”

The introduction of Intel Corp.-based workstations has trimmed much of the market for companies like Sun and SGI, as companies like Dell Computer Corp. can offer systems at relatively low prices. Worldwide RISC workstation shipments hit 780,000 units in 1996, but had shrunk to 411,000 in 2001, Rieppo said.

The tough competition from Dell and others has forced Palo Alto, California-based Sun to cut its prices.

“They have been very aggressive in pricing and are trying to stall the growth of the Intel market that way,” Rieppo said.

Sun is now packing more into its hardware at a lower cost than before, meaning users should benefit from the competition, she said.

In the Sun Blade 2000, the graphics accelerator offers 72M bytes of frame buffer memory, 256M bytes of texture memory, fixed and dynamic multisampling and super high resolution, among other features, Sun said. The 24-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) offers a 1920 x 1200 digital interface at 60Hz and a 170-degree viewing angle with the equivalent image of a 27.5-inch CRT (cathode ray tube), Sun said.

“The Sun Blade 2000 comes with the fastest processor and the fastest graphics implementation available and competes well with other systems in this market,” said Aad Dekkers, product marketing manager northern Europe for Sun. Dekkers specifically mentioned Silicon Graphics Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. as the competition.

Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., also said it partnered with 3D software developer Opticore AB to offer users enhanced 3D performance.

Sold separately, the XVR-1000 is priced at $3,495 and the 24-inch LCD at $4,500. The products are available from Sun and its channel partners, Sun said.

Sun Microsystems of Canada in Markham, Ont., is at