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AST, CalComp Join Forces on Workstations : Technology: The new PC product is an attempt to enter a market long dominated by other companies.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two Orange County computer companies, AST Research Inc. in Irvine and CalComp Inc. in Anaheim, said Thursday that they have formed a strategic relationship and are launching a new line of engineering workstations.

The first product from this strategic relationship is Medallion, a workstation for the computer-aided design marketplace. More co-designed products are expected to follow, the companies said.

The workstation product, which will carry the names of both companies, is AST’s first concerted attempt to use PC technology to crack the stronghold of low-end computer workstations based on the rival technology standard, said Dan Sheppard, AST director of product marketing. The rival standard, known as reduced instruction set computing (RISC), uses a different architecture that has certain speed advantages over traditional PC technology.

The dominant players in the $3-billion technical workstation market are RISC vendors such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard Co., International Business Machines Corp. and Digital Equipment Corp.

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“We’re pleased this is a relationship with a neighboring company,” said William Conlin, president of CalComp. “It could develop into an important strategic relationship.”

Such alliances are becoming more frequent in the industry, such as the alliance in July between IBM and Apple Computer Inc. to design next-generation personal computers, Conlin said.

The industry alliances are tacit admissions that no single company can keep up with the pace of technological change alone and that strategic alliances are necessary to leapfrog the competition, Conlin said.

“This is the first time AST has gone out with more than one company label on a product,” AST’s Sheppard said. “We are not in the high-end graphics business and they are not computer makers, so it was a good match.”

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The relationship emerged several months ago when CalComp officials approached AST after they learned it was developing a workstation. CalComp contributed its digitizer technology, which scans images into a computer’s memory, its graphics hardware and video monitor to the AST-designed machine.

The Medallion computer, based on Intel Corp.'s most powerful microprocessor and CalComp’s graphical user interface, will sell for $8,995, compared to similar workstations selling for $12,000 to $14,000, Sheppard said.

The Medallion was designed to be compatible with AutoCAD, the popular engineering software made by AutoDesk Inc. Unlike the RISC machines, which are based on variations of the Unix operating system, the AST workstation is based on industry standard MS-DOS operating system for PCs.

Diane Falconer, a product manager for rival Sun Microsystems in Mountain View, declined to comment on the AST machine. But she said PC makers have generally been losing ground to workstation vendors as prices come down on the workstations and they become viable alternatives to PC networks.

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Workstations, with faster processing speeds and built-in high-resolution graphics, are more useful in number-crunching applications and when several programs run simultaneously.


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