Client Systems – Desktop Product of the Year 2001

Incredible computing power at low prices captured the attention of voters in the Desktop category of Datamation’s Product of the Year survey of the best products released in 2001. Voters particularly liked powerful workstation computers – used for intense graphic and design work or for analyzing scientific data – which sold for under $2,000 and in the case of the revolutionary 64-bit Sun Blade 100 – under $1,000.

The Dell Precision Workstation 530, powered by Intel’s high-end Xeon chip, topped its competitors, taking 47 percent or 130 of the 279 votes cast in this category. Two products shared second place – Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Sun Blade 100 and IBM Corp.’s NetVista M Series PCs with 16 percent, or 44 votes each. The Net Vista line is the centerpiece of IBM’s PC offerings and includes Intel’s latest Pentium 4 processor.

See the List of Winners

Click here to see the list of winners in each category in Datamation’s Product of the Year 2001. Visit CIN each day this week for more stories on the Product of the Year winners.

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Steve Kleynhans, vice president of end user platforms Web and collaboration strategies for market researcher Meta Group in Caledon, Ontario, says Dell drove down the price of Intel-based workstations by bringing standard PC commodity components and its cost-effective business model to the technical workstation. “Compaq, IBM and HP had been participating in the Intel workstation market, but Dell’s entry brought the prices down to the mass market price point,” he says.

Not to be outdone by its Wintel competitors, Sun in 2001 introduced its own low-priced workstation, the Sun Blade 100, which at $995 is the first 64-bit workstation priced under $1,000.

Charles Sears, manager of research computing for the College of Oceanic & Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University in Corvallis, says the price and the Blade’s ability to integrate with the college’s other Sun computers convinced him to purchase several dozen workstations for students, staff and faculty. They use the computers to analyze data as part of research into atmospheric, weather and global conditions.

Sears says the machines’ expandability will make them useful in the future. “The machine was designed with future considerations in mind…There’s nothing proprietary about it, which gives me the ability to add a hard drive, more memory or peripherals. That’s a big win,” he says.

Meanwhile, Kambis Anvar, whose Westerly, R.I., company packages its medical imaging software onto Dell’s Precision Workstation 530, praises that machine for its speed and ability to enhance the performance of his company’s software.

“They are very fast and nicely configured and they’re one of the few (machines) that handle what we need to handle with the speed with which we need to handle it,” says Anvar, systems integration engineer with Heartlab Inc. The company builds software that allows doctors to view organs on computers as they function real-time. Doctors make medical decisions based on the images they see on the machine and the Precision Workstation 530 gives them the best performance of any of the machines Heartlab uses, Anvar says.

The Shape of Systems to Come

While the workstation market was marked in 2001 by lower prices, analyst Kleynhans says the PC desktop market was fairly quiet in 2001, coming through with few innovations. It took until the fourth quarter of the year for machines with Intel’s Pentium 4 chip – like IBM’s NetVista Ms – to catch on.

Voters had a choice of the following nominees:

Compaq Evo D500 Series

Compaq Computer Corp.

Dell Precision Workstation 530

Dell Computer

IBM NetVista M Series

IBM Corp.

Sun Blade 100 Workstation

Sun Microsystems Inc.

Poly 880K7-1400

Polywell Computers

HP Vectra VL420

Hewlett-Packard Co.

That machine is an example of the smaller PCs that take up less space, but don’t have the expandability of the larger models. The machines are cheaper to maintain because corporate users can’t get into them and mess them up, says Meta’s Kleynhans, who suggests that more of the smaller machines will be introduced in 2002.

In addition, customers will see more computer makers introduce colored chassis to make computers blend better into their environment. The prices of flat screen monitors, including ones as big as 17 to 19 inches, will also become more affordable, rivaling the prices of traditional monitors today, Kleynhans says.

He also expects to see increased integration in 2002, where customers won’t have to buy a separate network card or graphics card. Instead, all will be integrated into the device.

“You’re buying the system as a full-featured complete unit. A vast majority of corporate systems will never have their cover opened once in place,” he says. “People want a predictable, consistent product they can get without worrying about changes. Integration seems to help that.”

Freelance writer Cynthia Flash covers technology and business from Bellevue, Wash. Reach her at [email protected]