Most Impressive Part of Sun Blade Is Price

With this week's release of the Sun Blade 100, Sun Microsystems Inc. delivers an entry-level Unix workstation at an unprecedented low price

With this weeks release of the Sun Blade 100, Sun Microsystems Inc. delivers an entry-level Unix workstation at an unprecedented low price —the Sun Blade 100 starts at $995.

Also shipping this week is Suns Expert 3D-Lite graphics card, which we tested along with the Sun Blade 100. Offered by Sun as a lower-cost alternative to its higher-powered Expert 3D card, the Expert 3D-Lite arms the Sun Blade 100 for more graphics-intensive tasks such as MCAD (mechanical CAD).

However, in eWeek Labs tests with Standard Performance Evaluation Corp.s apc Pro/Engineer 2000i2 benchmark, which tests workstation performance running the Pro/E MCAD software, Suns inexpensive box turned in an unimpressive 0.44 composite score—compared with a score of 2.88 for the $5,329 Windows 2000-based IBM IntelliStation M Pro 6849 workstation that we reviewed for the Nov. 27, 2000, issue. (For that review, go to

In addition to the Expert 3D-Lite graphics card, the Sun Blade 100 we tested included a DVD-ROM drive, a 15GB EIDE (enhanced integrated development environment) hard drive and 512MB of RAM. As configured, the unit we tested is priced at $2,995—still significantly lower than competing Unix workstations, such as those from Hewlett Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp.

The $995 Sun Blade 100 model ships with 128MB of RAM, a 15GB EIDE hard drive, a CD-ROM drive and integrated two-dimensional graphics with 8MB of video RAM, based on ATI Technologies Inc.s Rage XL chip set.

The Sun Blade 100 can be configured with as much as 2GB of RAM and is powered by Suns 64-bit 500MHz UltraSPARC IIe chip—Sun is positioning the UltraSPARC IIe as a lower-cost alternative to its more powerful UltraSPARC III.

The Sun Blade 100 has four Universal Serial Bus ports and two 1394 ports, as well as an integrated Smart Card reader and NIC, all of which preserve the Sun Blades three PCI slots for expansion.

The Sun Blade 100 comes with Suns Solaris 8 operating system preinstalled, which means that users will have to grapple with the CDE (Common Desktop Environment) interface that accompanies Solaris by default. Although the Sun Blade 100s low price and attractive, easy-to-service chassis (see photo) are intended to make inroads into the lower-end workstation market, Sun will have to pay more attention to its software interface if it wants to attract new buyers.

Sun plans to make the GNOME (GNU Object Model Environment) desktop environment the default interface in future Solaris releases, and the change to GNOME cant come too soon.

We also tested the $495 SunPCi II card, which houses essentials of a 600MHz Celeron-powered Windows-compatible PC within a standard PCI card. Installed in the Sun Blade 100, the SunPCi II card let us use Windows applications within a window in Solaris.

The SunPCi II card runs Windows 98, NT 4.0 and 2000 and is a good way for companies that develop or draft on Sun boxes, but run Microsoft Corp. e-mail and office applications, to save space and money by enabling users to do both on a single machine.