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New Ultra 30 workstations signal end of SBus

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San Francisco (July 14, 1997) -- Tomorrow Sun Microsystems Inc. will unveil its next generation of workstations, called the Ultra 30. The Ultra 30s will be the first Sun workstations to use the industry-standard PCI (peripheral component interconnect) interface rather than Sun's own SBus.

In an effort to contain the growth of Intel-based systems by vendors like Dell and Compaq, Sun will also unveil a line of workstations priced under $5,000 sometime "this winter," according to Robert Novak, Sun's power desktop workstation group manager.

Sun is also readying a line of workgroup application servers, code-named Tasmo, that is said to be aimed squarely at the Compaq ProLiant 6000 market. Novak declined to comment on Tasmo, but Sun has said it expects to launch the line formally in early September.

Billed as Sun's highest performance single processor workstations, the Ultra 30s will come in 250- and 300-MHz configurations. They will feature what Sun calls an industry-first dual channel, 64-bit, 66-MHz PCI I/O bus, designed to support Sun's 1.6-GB/sec Ultra Port Architecture (UPA).

On the networking side, the switch to PCI slots will let Sun's customers choose from a wide variety of third-party network interface cards, provided they support Solaris -- and to that end Sun will also announce a list of more than 20 third-party vendors working on PCI cards for Solaris. Sun itself will sell a variety of these cards, such as FDDI (Fiber Distributed Data Interface), Token Ring Interface, and FastEthernet.

According to analysts, the switch to PCI comes none too soon.

"I think they're behind the curve," says Jim Garden, director for technical services with Technology Business Research. "Their customers have been clamoring for it [PCI] for a long time. Really it's an issue of not being able to sell proprietary SBus devices anymore."

The SBus is not completely dead, however. Novak does not rule out the possibility of more SBus-based server products from Sun, but he predicts that his company "probably will not continue to develop new workstation platforms that will be SBus based." And though Sun is promising full support for the SBus interface, Novak says this will only continue until Sun completes the transition to PCI in the next few years.

Andy Zmolek, a systems architect with Hughes Missile Systems says that after beta testing the Ultra 30s for a few months, he isn't sure they'll be hot sellers. "I see it as an investment machine," he says, "because this is the way that the rest of Sun's line is going to go." But with the Ultra 30 being the only PCI bus choice available from Sun, Zmolek says he would probably not chose it over Sun's Ultra 2 workstation just yet. "There needs to be more pieces than just the one," he observes.

The Ultra 30s will be priced starting at $16,500 for the 250-MHz model and $21,500 for the 300-MHz model and will come with one megabyte and two megabytes of external cache, respectively, four PCI slots, up to two gigabytes system memory, and will support up to two of Sun's new 24-inch color monitors. Volume shipments begin tomorrow.

Sun will first demonstrate its new workstations at the Cosmos 97 expo in Tokyo this week.

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