Originally published in the April 1995 issue of Advanced Systems.

first impression

An HP X terminal for Sun users

By Dalia Freeman

People buy X terminals because they are cheap. Well-designed software also makes some X terminals lend themselves to easy central administration. With Aptrex, Hewlett-Packard is hoping to one-up its competitors by offering seamless compatibility with Sun servers and a familiar look and feel for OpenWindows users. On all counts, Aptrex succeeds with HP's aims.

In performance and ease of administration, Aptrex is on par with HP's low-cost, general-purpose Entria X terminal line (see "HP X terminals easy, fast," June 1994). Aptrex matches a SPARC environment well: easy software installation for Solaris 1 or 2 servers, 1152 by 900 graphics resolution, Sun type-5 keyboard, and software designed with an OpenWindows user in mind. (Motif is supported, too.)

Instead of conducting a sterile lab test, I set aside my SPARCstation and used a $2,800 Aptrex as my daily computing device. Assembling the Aptrex hardware was a snap. Installing the software on a server was easy, too. Though the curses interface is clear, it was not quite as nice as the GUI Sun provides with its SPARC classic X (see "Six X terminals at work," March 1994). Administrators can configure Aptrex locally or from afar.

The heart of Aptrex is an Intel i960 CPU. Why doesn't HP use its home-brewed HP PA-RISC chips instead of Intel's? According to HP's X terminal marketers, the i960 is cheaper and better suited for displaying graphics. Standard is 4 megabytes of RAM, and I added another 8 megabytes. Around the back of Aptrex's base are the expected serial, parallel, and 10BaseT ports. A PCMCIA-standard expansion slot can accommodate an optional flash memory card to allow local booting.

Compared to my workstation, Aptrex lacks two items: noise and sound. X terminals don't have fans, so as soon as I jettisoned my workstation, I immediately noticed how noisy my co-workers are. Unfortunately, I couldn't drown them out with music from Aptrex since the X Window System does not yet offer a standard for handling sound.

While HP offers a range of display options, we received a 16-inch Sony color monitor. (HP calls it a 17-inch, but our ruler says otherwise.) The 80-dpi monitor was crisp and bright, but since my SPARCstation is monochrome, take my praise with a grain of salt. After a user-adjustable time of inactivity, a power-saving circuit kicks in, dropping the power draw to less than 30 watts (a typical work session consumes 120 to 130 watts).

The standard Sun type-5 keyboard is gentle on the touch and quiet. (Old Sun type-4 keyboard users may take a little time getting used to the location of the tilde key in the upper-left corner.) The control and caps lock keys are reversed, a PS/2, PC-like feature. HP confesses this is an oversight, and will fix it in a future release. For now it can be remedied by changing a configuration file. Also interesting is the use of the PC key combo control-alt-delete to reboot.

In our performance tests, Aptrex scored in the middle of the pack of terminals we've tested recently (see Performance results). Aptrex should please all but the most demanding users of graphics-intensive applications.

HP includes clear, helpful documentation with Aptrex. When in the local configuration program, clicking the right mouse button activates on-line sysadmin help, which I relied upon often. The first 30 days of installation support are free, and HP promises an overnight exchange warranty for one year.

If you're administering SPARC servers and have shied away from X terminals because of their (deserved) reputation for challenging installation and cranky relations with OpenWindows, we recommend HP's Aptrex. n

Hewlett-Packard, P.O. Box 58059, Santa Clara, CA 95051, 800-637-7740 x8344.

[Copyright 1995 Web Publishing Inc.]

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Last updated: 1 April 1995