Sun launches self-branded Sparc laptop

The Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation is a 64-bit UltraSparc-based laptop

Sun Microsystems Inc. took 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 pricing starts at $3,400, according to Rajesh Shakkarwar, senior director of workstations at Sun's network systems group. The devices are manufactured by Cupertino, Calif.-based Tadpole Computer Inc. and Taipei, Taiwan-based Nature Worldwide Technology Corp. Both companies have been producing UltraSparc-based notebooks for a number of years, but this is the first time Sun has rebadged laptops under its own brand.

The Ultra 3 Mobile Workstation will come in several configurations. It can be powered by a 1.2-GHz UltraSparc IIIi chip or by a 550-MHz or 650-MHz UltraSparc IIi chip; it can be equipped with either a 15-in. or a 17-in. thin-film transistor LCD screen, according to Sun's Web site. It will come with up to 2GB of double data rate RAM, 512MB of RAM and a 40GB disk drive. The laptop also includes entry 2-D graphics and 802.11b wireless networking.

The move was driven by customer requests, according to Shakkarwar. Sun workstation users want to be able to access their Sparc-based applications in the field, not just from inside the confines of their data centers, he said.

Shakkarwar cited companies involved in oil and gas exploration that do 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" to 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% market share and an installed base of 1 million machines, according to Shakkarwar. However, "it's a stable, mature market and doesn't have growth," he said. "It's a flat market."

"The problem Sun faces is a lot of users are migrating to Intel-based workstations," said Lloyd Cohen, director of worldwide market analysis for IDC's global enterprise server solutions program. "One of the hottest areas is mobile workstations." He dubbed Sun's laptop move a "wise thing to do." If Sun is 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 today does not have a share in the rapidly growing x86-based personal workstation market, Shakkarwar said, the company is targeting that market with its Opteron-based Ultra 20 Workstation, which is aimed at developers and was also announced at this week's JavaOne event. If customers sign up for a minimum three-year contract, including service and support, they can obtain the workstation when it ships in July for a monthly fee of $29.95, he said. The list price without support is $895.

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 Monday, but those announcements got lost amid other news. Sun chose not to demonstrate the machines during the address, Shakkarwar said.

On its Web site, Sun said the laptop provides performance and functionality equal to what's 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 be included.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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