Sun launches own-branded Sparc laptop

Sun Microsystems has taken the wraps off a 64-bit UltraSparc-based laptop, the Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation, at the JavaOne show in San Francisco.

The laptop should be generally available in July and entry-level pricing began at $US3400, senior director of workstations at Sun's network systems group, Rajesh Shakkarwar, said.

The devices are manufactured by Tadpole Computer and Taiwanese Nature Worldwide Technology. Both companies have been producing UltraSparc-based notebooks for a number of years, but this is the first time Sun has rebadged their laptops under its own brand.

The Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation will come in several configurations, powered by a 550MHz or 650MHz UltraSparc IIi chip or a 1.2GHz UltraSparc IIIi chip, available with either a 15-inch or a 17-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) liquid crystal display (LCD) screen, according to Sun's website.

It will come with up to 2GB of double data rate (DDR) RAM, 512MB of RAM and a 40GB disk drive. The laptop also includes entry 2D graphics and 802.11b wireless networking.

The move was driven by customer requests, according to Shakkarwar.

Sun workstations users wanted to be able to access their Sparc-based applications in the field, not just from inside the confines of their data centres, he said.

Shakkarwar gave the example of companies involved in oil and gas exploration that are engaged in resource simulation to ascertain where on the ocean floor they should be drilling.

"They now want to tweak those simulations while they're on the rig" and see what happens to the simulations," he said. "They have to have a mobile platform on the rig that can run Sparc-based binaries."

Sun has the lion's share of the traditional Risc-based workstation market with a 70 per cent market share and an installed base of one million machines, according to Shakkarwar.

It was a stable, mature market that didn't grow, he said. It was a flat market.

"The problem Sun faces is a lot of users are migrating to Intel-based workstations," director of worldwide market analysis for IDC's global enterprise server solutions program, Lloyd Cohen, said. "One of the hottest areas is mobile workstations."

He dubbed Sun's laptop announcement a wise thing to do.

If Sun was able to persuade any of its installed workstation base to adopt the Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation, that would be a way to hold back the move away from Sparc to x86, he said.

While Sun currently hads no share in the rapidly growing x86-based personal workstation arena, Shakkarwar said, the company was targeting that market with its Opteron-based Ultra 20 Workstation, which was aimed at developers and was also announced at JavaOne. If customers signed up for a minimum three-year contract, including service and support, they could obtain the workstation when it shipped in July for a monthly fee of $US29.95, he said

The list price without support is $US895.

The vendor made the Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation laptop and Ultra 20 Workstation announcements at the keynote address on the first day of the JavaOne conference, but they got lost amid all the other news.

Sun chose not to demonstrate the machines during the address, Shakkarwar said.

On its website, Sun positioned the laptop as providing performance and functionality equal to what was currently offered by a Sun Blade workstation.

The laptop comes preloaded with Sun's Solaris 10 operating system and will ship with the company's Java Desktop System preinstalled. Customers can opt for either StarOffice 7.0 or the GNOME 2.0 office software suite to also be included.

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