Compaq, Dell serve up powerful new computers

PERSONAL COMPUTERS

November 02, 1992|By PETER H. LEWIS

As computer networks proliferate in medium-to-smaller businesses, the demand for specialized computers called servers is expected to grow. Not coincidentally, both Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. introduced server models last month that offer high performance at a far lower price than was previously available.

Servers are powerful computers that are designed for use on local area networks, or LANs, which allow companies to connect groups of computers together.

Equipped with fast processors, lots of system memory and large amounts of high-speed data storage, the servers' job is to be a central repository of computer files to be shared by groups of workers, and also to coordinate user requests for printers, modems and other shared peripherals.

Larger companies began switching to powerful servers several years ago as a replacement for traditional mainframes and minicomputers, which typically require custom software and large technical support teams.

These servers typically cost $25,000 and up, but are still a bargain for many companies, replacing systems costing 10 times as much.

These "superservers" typically have a lot of microprocessing power; some of them, called multiprocessor servers, harness several chips to attack a problem at the same time. Relatively few companies have the resources to develop special software applications that work with multiprocessor servers, however, and the most popular network operating systems used by businesses, like Novell's Netware, work with single processor systems.

Not everyone needs the horsepower of a superserver. Many smaller businesses have discovered that they could use a standard PC as a server, adding enhancements like bigger and faster hard disks, more memory, a better power supply, more bays and slots for expansion, and so on. With standard PCs getting ever more powerful, the line between a brawny PC and a server has become blurred.

Compaq introduced two series of servers, one high, one low.

The Prosignia series, at the low end, starts at less than $2,700 for a bare system. In a more typical configuration -- a Prosignia 486DX2/66-550, using the 66-megahertz "clock doubling" version of the Intel Corp.'s i486 microprocessor and backed by 8 megabytes of system memory and 550 megabytes of SCSI-2 hard disk storage -- costs $5,459.

SCSI, for small computer system interface (and pronounced scuzzy), is rapidly becoming the preferred way to attach hard disks and other peripherals to a computer. The SCSI-2 refers to a new standard that is twice as fast as the original.

The drawback is that SCSI systems and peripherals are typically more expensive than conventional interface systems, but the price difference is narrowing.

The Systempro/XL, a new model in Compaq's existing Systempro line of high-performance servers, is advertised by Compaq as the fastest server in the world. (The claim prompted a Dell spokesman to sputter, "I can't wait to have a side-by-side comparison and watch theirs burst into flames.")

The Systempro/XL models start at less than $15,000, which is breathtakingly high for a Compaq but quite low when measured against comparable computers.

Compaq backs both systems with three years of free on-site service, plus seven-day, 24-hour telephone support.

Dell, meanwhile, introduced the Dell 466SE/DSA, which it claims is the fastest server in the world (prompting Compaq to issue a "white paper" complaining about Dell's methods of measurement).

Dell also introduced a new Dell SCSI Array, which it asserts is faster than any other drive array technology. Using a special reduced instruction set computing (RISC) microprocessor to relieve the computer's main processor from disk chores, the new server is able to sustain high performance even when saddled with as many as 58 gigabytes of storage. (A gigabyte is a billion characters, or roughly 1,000 megabytes. Fifty-eight gigabytes, needless to say, is a lot of data indeed.)

Dell's $7,365 base system includes the 66-megahertz i486 chip, 16 megabytes of system memory, a DSA controller and one diskette drive. A wide range of hard drives is available, with the top of the line being a new 1.05-gigabyte hard disk for $1,899.

(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas bureau: [512] 328-8258.)

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