Hewlett-Packard debuts 64-bit technology

Most federal workstation users can expect significant performance improvements with Hewlett-Packard Co.'s introduction of 64-bit processing technology.

HP last week introduced the first 3-D graphics workstations based on its new PA-8000 reduced instruction-set computing processor, with the first servers expected sometime this fall.

The new workstations rank among the most powerful in the industry, even though HP has not introduced a 64-bit version of its HP-UX Unix operating system, according to industry

analysts.

However, customers also can upgrade their older workstations and servers for an immediate performance boost for both graphics- and compute-intensive applications, HP said.

"With this very powerful microprocessor, we have extremely strong price/performance leadership in the area of technical computing," said Charlie Trentacosti, marketing manager at HP's federal government business unit. "We think it's going to draw on a vacuum in the government."

HP plans to add the new technology to its current contracts "where it makes sense and where the government wants it," Trentacosti said.

HP's contract base includes the Army's Workstation-I, the Navy's Tactical Advanced Computer (TAC)-4, the Supermini program through PRC Inc. and NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement.

The new PA-8000 also gives HP the performance it needs to compete on future bids with Digital Equipment Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., both of which already offer 64-bit-based systems, said Jan Morgan, a research analyst with IDC Government Market Services.

In particular, the chip should help HP win recompetes of TAC-4 and other programs, Morgan said. In the past "it was easier for someone to replace them [on a program] because their architecture was not cutting-edge," she said.

That is no longer the case, analysts said.

"HP has superior processor performance and at least parity graphics performance," said Richard Fichera, vice president of research at The Giga Information Group, a Cambridge, Mass., research and consulting firm.

HP's new PA-8000-based K Class system running at 180 MHz exceeds Digital's 500 MHz Alpha-based systems on floating-point benchmarks, which shows graphics capability, and just barely lags behind on integer benchmarks, which reflects number-crunching capabilities, according to the Giga Information Group.

"The PA-8000 catches them up with the competition and leapfrogs them to the lead," agreed Keren Seymour, associate analyst at IDC in Mountain View, Calif. "It's a very strong announcement for HP."

Digital, and some industry observers, believe the impact of the PA-8000 is muted because HP-UX is not 64-bit.

But that is only the case with a limited set of applications, according to HP.

Specifically, 64-bit system software plays a role primarily where applications require more than 4G of physical memory, and even then it can be worked around, according to HP.

Most industry analysts agreed.

"For most applications today - except for very large database applications - it's immaterial," Fichera said.

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