Friday, July 27, 2007

HP Speeds Up PC Workstation Performance (01apr97)

April 1, 1997

About three years ago, Hewlett-Packard realized that if the company was to have a significant position in the PC industry, it would have to compete with other vendors by adopting similar business practices. The first step HP took was to drastically reduce the prices for its Vectra systems. These are incredibly well-built PCs but at that time, were overpriced by as much as 50 percent.

The results probably surprised even HP executives. Within a couple of years the company has become a major factor in the PC industry with revenues running nearly $8 billion annually. HP now uses industry-standard components such as graphics accelerators from other vendors, provides a wide range of third-party system productivity tools, and now has a close working relationship with Microsoft. The result is a broad range of PCs that cover everything from low-cost home systems to Windows NT flame-throwers for complex 3D modeling and visualization.

The latter category consists of HP’s Vectra XW Graphics PC Workstation models. The company recently became the first to offer the AccelECLIPSE graphics subsystem from AccelGraphics as an option for the XW PCs. The AccelGraphics subsystem uses the REALimage chipset from Evans & Sutherland which apparently makes it the fastest graphics subsystem currently available for Intel-compatible PCs – over two million shaded triangles per second as well as hardware texture mapping. The subsystem includes 15 MB of frame buffer memory and an additional 16 MB of dedicated texture-mapping memory.

HP has provided us with data that indicates that for PCs equipped with a 200-MHz Pentium Pro processor, 256 MB of memory and a 21-inch display, the AccelECLIPSE outperformed a similar Compaq system fitted with an ELSA Gloria-L graphics card and a Digital system with a Powerstorm 4D40T by 5 to 15 percent. HP also seems to have a price advantage over these other systems.

The new high-end XW Graphics PC Workstation (we really wish HP could come up with more compact product nomenclature) consists of the following:

  • 128 MB Error Correcting Code memory (expandable to 512 MB)
  • 256 KB or 512 KB Level 2 cache memory
  • 200-MHz single or dual Pentium Pro processors
  • 10/100Base-T Ethernet adapter
  • 2.1 GB or 4.5 GB Ultra SCSI disk
  • 16x CD-ROM
  • A variety of software, some such as HP’s TopTOOLS PC management software is included while others such as Intergraph’s AccesNFS Toolkit for facilitating UNIX and Windows NT interoperability are provided on a try-and-buy basis.

Prices start $9,378 with a 17-inch monitor and while a 256 MB system with a 21-inch monitor will set you back $12,026. Obviously, you can purchase quality PCs from HP and other vendors for much less than this today but you will not get the overall performance the AccelECLIPSE-equipped machines provide. This is a level of performance that would have cost over $50,000 for a high-end UNIX workstation just a few years ago.

We find it interesting that HP went outside of the company for new graphics subsystems rather than repackaging its own UNIX workstation VISUALIZE graphics boards for the Vectra product line. Perhaps the VISUALIZE equipment is too tightly integrated with the PA-RISC processor architecture used in the UNIX workstations.

Our other concern the lack of interest HP seems to have concerning the AEC market. The press release covering these new PCs talked extensively about supporting mechanical design, simulation and animation. Our observation is that these are also excellent systems for architectural modeling, plant design, facility visualization, and walkthroughs. They are missing an excellent opportunity if they ignore the readers of A-E-C Automation Newsletter.