n the Unix market, the top players in descending order are Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard (HP), Silicon Graphics (SGI), IBM, and Digital Equipment (DEC, which was recently acquired by Compaq), according to IDC.
Sun ranks as the largest supplier of workstations in the Unix market with a 45% market share in 1997. As the single vendor with a Unix-only strategy, Sun also has the most complete line of Unix workstations, from $2500 at the entry level to about $50,000 on the high end.
Sun’s product line is the Ultra series the Ultra 5, 10, 30, 2, 60, and 450, which scales accordingly in power. The Ultra 2 is the only S-Bus workstation in this series. Sun moved to the PCI bus when it introduced the Ultra 30 last July. Then in January of this year, it announced the Ultra 5, 10, and 60 workstations as well as its new high-end 3D graphics, Elite3D. The Ultra 5 and 10 were Sun’s new entry-level products priced to compete directly with NT workstations. These two workstations use the UltraSparcIIi processor, the next iteration of technology developed from Sun’s more powerful UltraSparc-II processor. With the IIi, Sun integrated supporting technologies into one chip, which resulted in a cheaper manufacturing process, allowing Sun to create Unix systems that compete in price with NT.
The other workstations in the Ultra line use the UltraSparc-II chip. In May, Sun announced the availability of a processor upgrade for the Ultra 60, from 300- to 360MHz. It also announced price cuts of as much as 27% on the Ultra 5, 10, and 60. In July, it announced a 333MHz processor for the Ultra 10. It also introduced an entire new system aimed at high-level graphics, the Ultra 450, which can be configured with one to four UltraSparc-II processors and Elite 3D graphics.
The number two Unix workstation vendor, HP, is particularly strong in engineering environments. Its workstation offerings break down into three basic systems to which customers can add a range of graphics subsystems: Visualize B-Class, which is the entry level, Visualize C-Class, which is midrange, and Visualize J-Class, which is high end. Prices for HP’s systems range from $5000 to $40,000.
HP first introduced the lines in June of 1996 with a C-Class workstation, followed by a B-Class system in September of the same year. Currently, the B-Class systems use HP’s PA-RISC 32-bit 7300LC processor at either 132MHz or 180MHz. Since its introduction, the B-Class has been refreshed once in frequency (from 160MHz to 180MHz in September, 1997) and has dropped in price by as much as 50%. There are two offerings in the C-Class line as well, based on 200- and 240MHz versions of the PA-RISC 64-bit 8200 processor. According to HP, the C-Class systems offer about twice the overall system performance of the B-Class. The J-Class came to market in September of 1997 and has just one workstation in its line, the J2240, which uses two of the 240MHz processors.
Recent performance enhancements to the entire line came in June when HP created a free plug-in for its 10.20 HP-UX operating system aimed at improving graphics performance, especially in the C- and J-Class systems. Additionally, it introduced a new version of its operating system, HP-UX V11, which again should increase system performance across the line. On April 1st, HP also dropped prices by a minimum of 25% across the line. Next year, HP plans to incorporate versions of its next-generation 64-bit PA-RISC processor, the PA-8500, into all three lines.
SGI’s NT and Unix Plans
SGI maintains the number-three position in the Unix market, with tremendous expertise in its core markets – manufacturing, animation, and simulation. Last year SGI announced it would introduce an Intel-based Windows NT product in 1998, which is expected to ship sometime this fall. SGI also has committed to Intel’s IA 64 architecture for future systems in addition to its MIPS-based products.
But SGI plans to keep a strong presence in the Unix market as well with its O2 and Octane families, ranging in price from around $5900 to $39,000. SGI introduced the O2, a single-processor machine, two years ago this October to replace the Indy line. The O2 is available with three MIPS processors, the 200MHz R5000, the 225MHz R10000 (announced in August), and the 250MHz R10000 (announced in May). The O2 has one level of graphics that scales with processor speed. In 1999, SGI plans to incorporate the next-generation MIPS processor, the R12000, into the O2 product line. (The R12000 is expected to reach production in the first half of 1999.) Because the O2’s architecture is a synchronous design, SGI expects the R12000’s faster clock speed to increase the O2’s overall system performance.
The Octane, which replaced the Indigo II family back in January of 1996, can be single- or dual-processor and uses either the 225MHz or 250MHz R10000. The graphics for this workstation are scalable, from a one-geometry engine model (the SE) to a two-geometry engine model (the SSE) to a model with two geometry engines plus a texture module (the MXE). In July, SGI announced price reductions on the Octane line of as much as 36%. Future plans include an Octane based on the R12000 as well as the R14000 and enhanced graphics.
As the number-four vendor in the Unix market, IBM continues to have a loyal base of users, especially in the manufacturing arena. Its business has been tied mostly to CAD environments using Catia. IBM’s workstation products include the 43P Models 140 and 240, Model 397, and Model F50. In general, prices range from $5000 to $20,000.
Both the 43P 140 and 240 were introduced in October of 1996 but have been upgraded continually. The 43P 140, which is a single processor system, represents the entry level of IBM’s Unix line, although it could be considered midrange depending on its configuration. IBM upgraded the 43P 140 to a 332MHz PowerPC processor from a 233MHz version last October; the 43P 240 was upgraded from a 200MHz PowerPC to a 233MHz version last April. The Model 397, which is based on the 160MHz Power2 Super Chip and was introduced last October, is optimized for compute-intensive applications that require high floating-point operations, such as analyzing the surface planes of a 3D model. The F50, which is scalable from one 322MHz PowerPC processor to four such processors, was originally designed as a server, according to IBM. But because of customer demand from the CAD industry, IBM added support for 3D graphics in March of this year. By the end of the year, IBM plans to announce upgrades to most of its Unix workstations.
With a strong focus on Windows NT, DEC has receded to the fifth spot in the Unix market, and its Unix business is not likely to grow substantially now that it is part of Compaq. Although Digital has not been a powerhouse in the workstation market in recent years, it has established itself in several areas, including animation and GIS. Expect Compaq to announce a new Alpha-based Unix product by the end of the third quarter.
In the Windows NT market, IDC data shows that HP and Compaq are in a virtual tie for the top spot, but Dell is gaining ground rapidly (see’ 1997 NT Workstation Shipments’). The remaining top players include IBM, DEC, and Intergraph respectively.
On the NT side of its business, HP’s products break into three types of workstations: the Kayak XA, which is the low end; the Kayak XU, which is the midrange; and the Kayak XW, which is the high end. Prices range from $1879 to $12,873 as of press time, but HP was going to announce further price reductions in August. Recent product introductions include the HP XA-S, announced in June, which is scalable from one to two Pentium II processors and is HP’s first product to support the Intel 440BX chip set (which provides support for AGP and 100MHz bus). In July, HP announced both XU and XW products based on Intel’s Xeon processor. The XW product was also the first in HP’s NT line to use its fx6 graphics accelerator, which uses six geometry-acceleration chips based on HP’s PA-RISC floating-point processor technology to boost OpenGL performance. HP was also planning to announce 450MHz versions of its XA, XA-S, and XU products.
Compaq’s workstation products were undergoing a facelift at press time. Although the company is still offering its 5100, 6000, and 8000 workstations, it is moving to a three-tiered structure consisting of its Affordable Performance (AP) systems at the low end, Scalable Performance (SP) systems in the midrange, and Extreme Performance (EP) systems on the high end. The first products introduced in this new hierarchy were the AP400, a dual-processor workstation based on the Intel Pentium II processor announced in June, and the AP200, a single-processor Pentium II workstation announced in July. Both systems also use Intel’s 440BX chip set. Compaq announced its first SP product, the SP700, at the end of June. This will be a single- or dual-processor workstation that uses Intel’s Xeon chip and the next-generation of Compaq’s highly parallel system architecture, designed to increase performance via multiple data paths, high-speed data buses, and balanced system resources. For EX products, Compaq will announce an NT Alpha-based workstation some time in the third quarter.
Third-place Dell, which celebrated its one-year anniversary in the workstation market this July, has applied its direct sales model, backed up by a sales force aimed at its largest customers, to workstations with great success. It has consistently driven prices down, offering products that range in price from $2500 (including monitor) to $20,000, and has forced competitors to follow. However, Dell does not provide the consulting services that Compaq, HP, and IBM provide. As in the general-purpose market, its strength is quality systems at low prices. Dell recently launched two new systems in its Precision WorkStation line: in April it announced the Precision 410, which supports single or dual 350MHz or 400MHz Pentium II processors and the 440BX chipset; then in June Deli introduced the Precision 610, which supports the Xeon processor and comes in single- or dual-processor configurations.
With the addition of its IntelliStation line of Intel-based workstations, IBM has expanded beyond its CAD base. IBM offers three levels of IntelliStations, ranging from a low of $2300 to as high as $15,000: the entry-level EPro, the midrange MPro, and the high-end ZPro. The EPro, which was announced in the first quarter of this year, is a single-processor system based on the Pentium II processor. The MPro, introduced in the second quarter, also uses the Pentium II but can be configured with two processors. The ZPro, which IBM announced this quarter, will use the Xeon processor and come in either single or dual configurations. A number of third-party 3D graphics accelerators are available for all three lines.
The smaller players in the NT workstation market cannot compete with the large PC vendors across the entire market and therefore are trying to open up new markets. Intergraph, for example, is particularly strong in 3D graphics, which the company recently reinforced by introducing its Wildcat 3D technology, a scalable 3D architecture for Windows NT systems. Intergraph has become a leader in focusing on nontraditional markets, such as digital-content creation, especially in broadcast and publishing.
Intergraph offers two basic series of workstations, the TD, which is aimed at the entry level, and the TDZ-2000, which can range from mid to high level depending on configuration. In May, Intergraph announced the most recent addition to its TD line, the TD-250, which uses a 333MHz Pentium II and starts as low as $1500. Intergraph also introduced the TDZ-2000 GL2 and GT1 in May, both of which come in a single or dual 400MHz Pentium II configurations. The GT1 is Intergraph’s first workstation to feature its concurrent multiport architecture, designed to deal with I/O and memory subsystem bandwidth barriers and improve total system performance. Intergraph has announced support for the Xeon as well, but it did not have any more details at press time.
Although the ‘other’ category of NT workstation vendors is quite large coming in at 36% in 1997, IDC predicts that percentage will shrink over time as the major PC vendors take over the Windows NT workstation market, much as they have in the commercial PC market.
Overall, there’s no denying that workstations and PCs are coming closer together. The compelling economics of PCs are forcing Unix vendors to deliver products faster and at lower prices while driving innovation in 3D technology. The competition is already fierce and will continue to be so. The race continues.