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Entry Level, But Full-Featured

Sun's inexpensive workstation and its first mobile offering could revitalize the company's position in an important market
Sun Microsystems, looking to build on its traditional strength in the workstation market, last week rolled out an entry-level workstation based on an Opteron processor and a Sparc-based machine that's its first portable workstation.

The Ultra 20 workstation uses a single-core Opteron processor. With a price starting at $895, it's aimed at the fast-growing market for x86-based workstations, says John Fowler, executive VP for network systems. Sun will add dual-core Opteron-based workstations "relatively soon," he says.

Sun's ShareThe low price for the Ultra 20 could help revitalize the company's position in the market. "The price of a system in that kind of range will gain some attention," says Roger Kaye, an IDC analyst. "It has always been premature to bet against Sun, since Sun is a company that has 10 lives and has always been able to pull itself out of a jam at the last second."

With its workstation products, Sun is targeting primarily software developers and the mechanical computer-aided-design and electronic-design automation markets, he says. The Ultra 20 comes preloaded with the Solaris 10 operating system and Java development tools.

"This is not a general business desktop play," Fowler says. "These are aimed at professionals with technically complex tasks, which is one of the reasons we're bundling so many tools with this platform. People don't talk about the workstation market much anymore, but designing jets or cars or circuits is a big activity, and the market when combining x86 and RISC is still in the billions of dollars."

The Ultra 3 mobile workstation is aimed at users wanting to keep compatibility with other Sparc-based systems, Fowler says. Anticipated users include systems administrators, software developers, and government agencies.

Entry-level pricing for the Ultra 3 is $3,400. Fowler says Sun will evaluate the demand for the mobile workstation and may expand the segment with other mobile offerings.