Does Sun's New Sparcstation Have Enough Spark?

When Sun Microsystems Inc. introduces its long-awaited next-generation workstation on May 19, computer mavens are unlikely to be awed. Although the $15,000 SparcStation 3 features a new SuperSparc microprocessor built for Sun by Texas Instruments Inc. that doubles the performance of the current high-end SparcStation 2, the machine is some 30% slower than offerings from Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM.

But mavens aside, the new line should help Sun with its target market--the low end of the $8.7 billion worldwide workstation business. For one thing, it will be cheaper to make. Unlike the brains of some other workstations, the SuperSparc is only one chip. And it executes more software instructions per cycle, or tick of its internal clock, so it requires less power to achieve higher speeds. That means the machine will still be the speediest for the money. Moreover, unlike competitors' machines, it will be able to combine up to four microprocessors to boost performance. Faster versions of the TI chip are expected to be out later this year, promising a further boost.

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