SGI revs processors, system software

Silicon Graphics Inc. has revamped its workstation line with faster processors and a new version of its 64-bit system software, leading the way among Unix vendors battling to offer better price/performance with faster chips.

In other workstation moves, Digital Equipment Corp. last week announced a new high-end Alpha workstation based on a 333 MHz chip, and a range of new servers. And Hewlett-Packard Co. this week will announce two new HP 9000 K-class servers.

SGI, however, made the biggest gains by incorporating MIPS Technologies Inc.'s new reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) 10000 (R10000) processors, industry observers said. MIPS is an SGI subsidiary.

"What [SGI] did was update the entire product line from top to bottom with a single announcement," said Andrew Feit, director of advanced desktop computing at Dataquest Inc., San Jose, Calif. "These guys are right up there at the very top, delivering leadership price/performance and leadership performance," Feit said.

SGI expects the revamp to have a big impact on its business in the federal market. Applications that previously ran on the high-end Onyx system can now be run on the midrange Indigo2 3-D graphics machines, said Gary Havenstein, workstation manager at SGI's federal office. That would include such Onyx applications as Cambridge Research's PowerScene, a 3-D visualization product that the Defense Mapping Agency has been using in the U.S. mission in Bosnia [FCW, Dec. 18, 1995]. "You are probably looking at a 2-to-1 price advantage with Indigo2 over the Onyx," Havenstein said.

New Models

Indigo2 Impact 10000 desktop workstations offer two to three times the performance of workstations running MIPS' R4400 processors, the company said. Indigo2 High Impact will cost $43,000, and Indigo2 Maximum Impact will cost $55,000. Both models run Impact graphics processors and the Irix 64-bit operating system. The products will be available this spring.

SGI also announced the Onyx InfiniteReality, the company's new high-end visualization supercomputer. Onyx InfiniteReality processes complex visualization applications up to 100 times faster than Onyx RealityEngine2, the company said. Onyx RealityEngine2 was the company's previous high-end machine.

Onyx InfiniteReality, which runs two to 24 processors, has the ability to download more than 200M of image data per second and provides a pixel fill rate of more than 800 million pixels per second.

"There are so many applications that can use something like this," said Lynne Corddry, manager of federal business development at SGI's Silver Spring, Md., office. Like Onyx RealityEngine2, SGI expects to take InfiniteReality into numerous Defense Department projects involving texture mapping and simulation programs.

"People are going to start thinking of SGI not just as an entertainment company but as a [DOD] company," Corddry said.

Shipping this quarter, pricing on Onyx InfiniteReality begins at $198,000 for a system with two R4400 processors and $208,800 for two R10000 processors. All Onyx InfiniteReality systems come with 16M of texture memory, two high-resolution display channels, 64M of memory, a 2G hard disk and a 21-inch multiscan monitor.

SGI also introduced Indigo2 Solid Impact, an entry graphics workstation designed for 3-D solid modeling that will begin shipping this quarter. Indigo2 Solid Impact costs between $22,000 and $34,000, with processor speeds ranging from a 200 MHz R4400 processor to a 250 MHz R10000 processor. The R10000 gives SGI a "more balanced" chip in terms of integer and floating-point performance than it had previously, said Rich Partridge, research analyst with DH Brown Associates, a Port Chester, N.Y., consulting firm.

Digital Machines

Digital, meanwhile, has introduced an AlphaStation 600 midrange engineering workstation running Digital's new 333 MHz chip.

The AlphaStation 5/333 runs about 23 percent faster than previous models, which translates into a 40 percent price/performance increase, said William Glazier, director of workstation marketing for Digital's federal government region. The AlphaStation runs Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT, Digital's Unix and Digital's OpenVMS.

Digital has run benchmarks against Sun Microsystems Inc.'s 64-bit UltraSPARC-based workstations using real applications, according to Glazier. "We have found on average the new workstation is anywhere from 55 to 80 percent faster than Sun's fastest shipping UltraSPARC," he said. The AlphaStation 600 also offers more than twice the performance of HP's J200 and SGI's Indigo2 250, Digital said.

Pricing on the AlphaStation 600 5/333 workstation begins at $28,885 for a Windows NT-based system. That includes a 1G disk, 4M of fast cache, 32M of memory, a ZLXp-E1 graphics adapter and a 17-inch monitor. It is available now.

Server Boost

In servers, HP enhanced its server families with added performance.

HP's two new HP 9000 K-class servers—the K220 and K420—improve on-line transaction processing throughput by quadrupling the amount of system cache of the existing architecture from 512K to 2G. Both servers also run up to four 120 MHz PA-RISC 7200 processors.

Otherwise, the new servers have the same features as older systems in their respective lines. That means existing customers can upgrade their servers without replacing their system cabinets, HP said.

"This, more than anything else, is the critical thing in the K-class," especially on such programs as the Navy's Supermini contract, said Bill Dwyer, product marketing manager for HP's federal computer operations. The K220 has a list price of $51,120, while the K420 costs $73,020. They are available now.

HP is offering commercial users a CPU return credit program for users who upgrade processors, HP said. HP expects to offer a similar program on some of its contracts.

Digital also increased performance in its server line. It incorporated the 300 MHz Alpha chip into its AlphaServer 2000 and AlphaServer 2100, and the 350 MHz processor into its AlphaServer 8200 and 8400 systems.

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