Hewlett-Packard to Unveil Line of Workstations : Technology: The new computers are said to be faster than those sold by market leader Sun Microsystems.


Hewlett-Packard Co., seeking to regain lost ground in the strategically important computer workstation market, will roll out a new line of machines today that it says are twice as fast as those sold by market leader Sun Microsystems.

Although workstations account for less than 10% of Hewlett-Packard’s $12 billion in annual revenues, they are one of the fastest-growing pieces of the computer business and are rapidly displacing minicomputers--traditionally the mainstay of H-P’s computer business--in many offices and engineering laboratories.

The new machines, which sell for $12,000 to $43,000, use a computer design known as reduced instruction set computing (RISC), which dramatically increases performance. Palo Alto-based H-P was a leader in developing RISC but failed to exploit it in the workstation arena, where Sun has gained a dominant position with its own brand of RISC.


With a broad range of products that includes scientific instruments, medical equipment, printers and calculators in addition to computers, H-P has fared better in recent years than minicomputer vendors such as Digital Equipment and Data General, which have been badly hurt by the shift toward personal computers and powerful desktop workstations. Minicomputers are multi-user computer systems that are smaller than mainframes and are often used by mid-size businesses or individual departments within a large company.

But H-P and its chief executive, John A. Young, have drawn fire from Wall Street for lackluster earnings and a staid approach to the fast-changing computer business, leading 78-year-old company co-founder David Packard to begin taking a more active management role last year.

Workstations have traditionally been used primarily for engineering tasks, but rapid price reductions, better software and aggressive marketing--especially by Sun--have led more and more businesses to adopt them for general purpose office computing.

H-P acknowledged the importance of the market in 1989 when it purchased workstation vendor Apollo, but it had difficulties integrating Apollo’s product line with its own and continued to lose ground to Sun. International Business Machines has also assumed an important role in the workstation business with the success of a RISC product line introduced last year.

Lewis E. Platt, executive vice president for computer systems at H-P, said the three products being introduced today were the middle part of a product family, and that additional machines would be introduced by year-end on both the low and high end.

Industry analysts said the new machines compared favorably to current offerings from Sun and IBM, and H-P provided test results showing that they were twice as powerful as competing systems. But Sun is expected to respond with faster machines of its own later this year.

In a departure from traditional tactics, H-P has run a series of “teaser” advertisements in major publications that take direct pokes at Sun. Platt said the ad campaign was “more aggressive than usual,” and that it was designed to help win “mind-share” away from the most important competitor.

He acknowledged, however, that H-P probably wouldn’t be able to surpass Sun in market share any time soon. Sun currently holds about 37.5% of the $7.4-billion workstation market, while H-P has just 16.6%, according to Dataquest, a San Jose research firm.