Unix Choices Up, Prices Down

There never has been a better time to be in the high-performance workstation business. Workstation users once had only a few options, primarily based on expensive Unix systems. Now, however, the choices seem endless. In particular, the expanding presence of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows and Windows NT operating systems in today's market is hard to ignore.

However, some organizations still opt to use Unix because of the systems' computing power and stability. These systems, based on reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) processors, generally still cost more than Windows NT workstations. But even here, the range of options has only improved.

Our annual look at Unix workstations focuses on the wide variety of choices available to customers for about $15,000. Our comparison offers a look at four excellent machines from Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Each of these vendors offers performance and functionality choices that were unimaginable for $50,000 just a few years ago.

In addition to the vendors' basic choices, two of the machines we tested offer operating system alternatives. The Compaq machine runs Windows NT or the Tru64 Unix operating system. And for less than $500, Sun's new SunPCi card enables you to run a Windows PC system in a window on the Sun product's desktop.

In setting up this comparison, we asked the major Unix hardware vendors for their best machine under $15,000. We specified 512M of RAM, 9G of hard disk space, a 20-inch monitor and fast 2-D graphics performance. Vendors were free to add whatever they wanted to the system. Unfortunately, two of the vendors-HP and IBM-sent us systems that exceeded the $15,000 limit.

We received the following machines for the comparison: Compaq's XP1000 Professional Workstation, HP's Visualize C3000 Unix Workstation, Sun's Ultra 60 Model 1450 and IBM's RS/6000 43P Model 260.

We looked at several factors in determining a winner, including performance, administration, setup, features and price. Performance was the most heavily weighted factor.

The Choice Is Yours

This year's winner, the IBM, offered great performance, strong administrative tools and a good feature set. Of course, all this comes at IBM's premium price.

All the systems have their advantages, giving buyers a lot to consider. Do you go with the performance, expandability and administrative ease of IBM's RS/6000? What about the scalable architecture and interoperability of Sun's Ultra 60? How much should HP's 400MHz PA-RISC processors' reputation for excellence factor in to your decision? Does the processing brawn and Windows NT interoperability of Compaq's XP1000 make it the best option?

With so many choices, now is a great time for buyers in the performance computing market. Our comparison found that the best choice this year is the IBM RS/6000. The question is, Which one is right for you?


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