By Timothy Prickett Morgan As expected, Hewlett-Packard Co last week rolled out its first line of Linux-based graphics workstations, which are more or less just versions of its existing Visualize NT-based workstation line with Red Hat Linux substituting for NT. The Linux lineup, with only two models, is a little weak on choices, especially when […]
By Timothy Prickett Morgan
As expected, Hewlett-Packard Co last week rolled out its first line of Linux-based graphics workstations, which are more or less just versions of its existing Visualize NT-based workstation line with Red Hat Linux substituting for NT. The Linux lineup, with only two models, is a little weak on choices, especially when it comes to graphics subsystems. The fact that HP has announced Linux-based workstations at all further establishes Linux in the technical and commercial marketplaces, and that it decided to debut them at the Design Automation Conference in New Orleans similarly speaks volumes for Linux. For the last two years running, HP has been the market leader in combined NT and Unix workstation shipments – Sun is the leader in Unix, Dell the leader on NT, but HP still has more ships in the combined markets than either has separately – and HP is obviously very keen on making the third charmed year for 1999. It probably won’t be long, however, until Linux workstations get the same full Visualize status, with fx series graphics cards, that the Windows NT line has just attained this year.
Up until recently, HP, like other RISC-Unix workstation vendors who also sell NT workstations, has kept the best graphics cards for its own Unix machines. While such a conservative, protective strategy makes sense in an evolving market – such as the NT workstation market over the past few years or the current Linux workstation market – in the long run, HP has to sell all of its technology to customers regardless of whether they want Intel or HP processors or need NT, Unix or Linux applications.
That said, the HP Linux workstations, which will start shipping in the third quarter, represent good value compared to the company’s existing low-end NT workstations. The PL450 comes with a single 450MHz Pentium III processor, the 440GX AGP chipset, 128Mb of memory (expandable to 768Mb), an ELSA Gloria Synergy graphics card with 8Mb of SGRAM, and a 9Gb SCSI disk for $3,330. (Monitors are not included in any of these prices.) The PL450 Linux workstation most closely resembles the NT-based P450 workstation, which uses the same processor but uses the 440BX chipset (which means it can sport a second processor). With the same configuration, the NT workstation costs $3,766.
However, the NT-based P450 can also make use of the HP fx2 and fx4 graphics subsystems, which absolutely blow away the ELSA Gloria cards thanks to the dual or quad PA-RISC math units in their respective cards. These cards jack up the prices on the NT workstations to $5,606 and $6,641, but they are generally worth the money for users who need serious workstation power. The second Linux-based Visualize workstation from HP is the XL550, which is essentially identical to the existing X550 NT-based workstation. Both machines have a single Pentium III Xeon processor (expandable to two processors thanks to the 440GX AGP chipset), 128Mb of memory (expandable to 1Gb), 9Gb of disk and the ELSA card. The Linux model will sell for $4,525 when it starts shipping, while the NT model sells for $4,651.
The main differentiator between the Linux and NT flavors is support for HP’s fx graphics cards, and in this case the NT model supports the fx2 and fx4 cards as well as the fx6 cards, which have six PA-RISC math units and arguably the fastest graphics performance in the Unix and NT workstation market. A base X550 NT workstation with an fx6 card sells for $8,676.
Clearly, if Linux starts taking off in the technical workstation market, Hewlett-Packard’s workstation marketeers won’t have any problem convincing their bosses that it is far better to sell that graphics card than lose a sale to Sun, IBM or SGI. The argument worked with NT, and it will probably work with Linux should a serious demand for high-end graphics workstations develop. For the moment, Linux is more or less still known as the last, best hope for tired iron that is, because of poor programming practices, unsuitable for supporting Windows NT or Windows 2000. But as Linux is seen as a better alternative to Windows 2000, HP will be under huge pressure to get its fx graphics subsystems working with Linux.
HP says that it will offer hardware and software support for its two Linux workstations. This will be comprised of standard warranty plus additional support, just as it sells for HP-UX and NT workstations. Support from Red Hat will also be available for the machines for those who want to go that route. Also at the Design Automation Conference, HP said that six of its biggest electronic design automation (EDA) partners had ported their application suites to the 64-bit HP-UX 11 operating system and tuned them specifically to take advantage of the processing power in N-class and V-class servers and PA-8500 RISC workstations. The six include Antrim Design Systems, Avant!, Chrysalis Symbolic Design, ISE, Monterey Design and Snaketech.