HP updates Unix workstation

Nothing hurts the ears of a user like the droning buzz of a Unix workstation. With that in mind, Hewlett-Packard Co. on Tuesday announced its newest unit, the c8000, which has been designed to run quietly, among other improvements.

The C8000 hums away at 32 decibels when processing and 26 decibels when idling, compared with its noisier predecessor, the c3750, at 40 decibels, said Maria Del Rio-Arbuckle, product manager for HP workstations, based in Mississauga, Ont. To put this in perspective, 60 decibels is the volume of normal conversation while a whisper rings in at 30 decibels, she added.

But probably of more interest to IT workers is the four times better graphics performance and twice the computing power of the c8000 over the c3750, Del Rio-Arbuckle said.

Designed especially for large-scale modeling, system assemblies, design analysis and simulations in verticals such as aerospace, automotive and electronic design industries, the RISC-based HP Workstation c8000 is designed to work with traditional Unix applications.

The c8000 includes the new PA-880 dual-core processor and has binary compatibility with its chip ancestor the P870+ meaning HP-UX 10.20, 11.0, and 11i applications will run on it, Del Rio-Arbuckle said.

It also has accelerated graphics port (AGP) 8X graphics and the latest HPzx1 chipset, which provides 400 per cent more graphics, processor and memory bandwidth than HP’s Unix workstation predecessors, the company said. The HPzx1 chipset is based on Intel Corp.’s 64-bit Itanium platform, meaning that if users wanted to migrate towards an Itanium platform in the future, it would be supported, Del Rio-Arbuckle said.

Additionally, it supports 16GB of memory compared with the c3750’s 8GB and is available in May, starting at $14,000. Price will vary depending on configuration.

Rob Enderle, consultant and founder of The Enderle Group in San Jose, said it is important that HP upgrade its Unix workstations because it still has customers which are locked down on Unix products that can’t be migrated to other platforms. The performance increases of the c8000 simply bring the Unix workstation up to speed with the times, he said.

In the past few years many companies have shed their Unix workstations in favour of the cheaper x86 platforms. The result has been a significant revenue loss for firms who only invested in proprietary chipsets, such as Sun Microsystems Inc. with its SPARC technology, Enderle said. Sun now sells both SPARC- and Intel-based platforms.

Additionally, during the latest recession, companies laid off employees and abandoned some product development leading to a surplus of hardware, which put a lid on the technology, Enderle explained.

“Even though the market is flat, it’s still reasonably healthy. [Users] do replace [Unix workstations] fairly regularly but because of downsizing efforts there was a surplus so the companies didn’t need to buy more,” he said.

Additionally, when companies replaced their workstations they didn’t buy as many and some even held off on a refresh when money was tight. Others have even abandoned Unix in favour of the x86 — which is where the market is going — often choosing Microsoft Corp.’s Windows but recently Enderle has seen more of an uptake in Linux, he noted.

While HP, Sun and IBM Corp. are the big players in the Unix workstation market, they don’t necessarily compete with one another. Enderle noted that each company’s Unix distribution is so different that it would be cumbersome to migrate between platforms, so generally a customer will stick with the same vendor.

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