Sun's new Darwin: How's it faring?

Sun drops prices on its the low-cost line

By Stephanie Steenbergen, SunWorld staff

May  1998
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San Francisco (May 5, 1998) -- Sun's low-end Darwin workstations are young -- only three months on the market -- but how are they performing relative to other low-priced computers?

By creating this low-end family, Sun is not attempting to strong arm PC buyers into purchasing Ultra machines. Chris Scheufele, product line manager for Ultra workstations, says Sun machines are built for more heavy-duty computing than the average PC user needs.

Keren Seymour, an analyst at International Data Corp., who specializes in workstations, says, "Our impression from talking to various people is that [Darwin is] actually doing very well for Sun. They've shipped more than they had originally anticipated. The customers are excited about it, and it's very well-received."

Seymour agrees that Darwin is not trying to take away any PC sales. She says it's an infrastructure issue, not a performance issue. "Darwin is going to be most successful in Sun's installed base for users who need to upgrade their existing Sun workstations," she says. "It could prevent PC sales from occurring if users were considering moving to NT and now have an option to remain with Unix, but I don't believe that Darwin would halt PC penetration into accounts that are already PC centric."

She adds, "It's hard to tell at this point if the demand is just pent up demand due to Sun's lack of a low-end for so long." It's also unclear whether or not this positive reception will continue once the customers who have been waiting for it are satisfied. "Then how will it perform in the market?" she asks.

Sun today will announce some "enhancements" to its Darwin Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 -- specifically, the addition of a free CD-ROM and Solaris 2.6 pre-installed.

Scheufele says Darwins "have been enormously successful for us. We're scrambling to bring out more of them. We've captured peoples' attention."

Sun is also announcing lower prices for the Ultra 5 and 10. The Ultra 5 will cost approximately $500 less, and the Ultra 10 will cost between $1,000 and $1,500 less.

When the Darwin line debuted in mid-January, the Ultra 5 was priced starting at $2,995, without a monitor. It is equipped with a 270-MHz UltraSPARC IIi RISC processor, 256 KB external cache, 64 MB of memory (expandable to 512 MB), a 4.3-GB hard drive and 1.44-MB floppy drive, 8-bit accelerated graphics, and three PCI I/O slots.

The Ultra 10 was priced starting at $6,395. It is equipped with a 300-MHz UltraSPARC IIi processor, 512 KB of external cache, 64 MB of memory (expandable to 1 GB), one 4.3-GB hard drive and one 1.44-MB floppy drive, Creator graphics, and four PCI slots.

Sun is putting a new, higher speed processor in the Darwin Ultra 60, which will enable faster load times, shorter calculations, and faster imaging. Prices for the Ultra 60 have not been reduced. The Ultra 60 begins at $13,295. A fully configured system including dual 300-MHz UltraSPARC II processors, Elite3D m6 graphics, 4-GB hard drive, 256 MB memory, and 21" monitor is $27,760.

How does Sun respond to the possibility that the rush for product may not last? "To look at historical reports, we believe we can continue to drive the volume. [The new enhancements are] going to be very attractive," says Scheufele.

Although he doesn't have any definite statistical data on Darwin yet, Peter ffolkes, principal analyst of advanced desktop and workstation computing at Dataquest, says, "every understanding that I have is that the product is doing extremely well. Basically, if Sun could build more, it could sell more. But I don't have anything quantifiable. I'm confident that [so far] it's a big success in the marketplace."


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