This little card puts a PC inside an Ultra workstation

This little card puts a PC inside an Ultra workstation

By Jason Byrne

GCN Staff

Unix workstations are powerful, reliable and totally incompatible with the many Microsoft Windows applications run by government agencies.

Most offices wind up putting a separate PC on each Unix user's desk at considerable extra cost, not only in dollars but in space and workload for the support staff.

Sun Microsystems Inc. recently released a PCI card for Sun Ultra workstations that eliminates the need for the extra PC. The SunPCi Card certainly earns points for ingenuity and for maximizing existing resources. It holds the equivalent of a full Windows-compatible PC and runs a full version of Windows natively within SunSoft Solaris 2.5.1, 2.6 and 7 in both 32- and 64-bit versions.

SunPCi sports a 300-MHz K6-2 processor from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.; up to 256M of RAM; serial, parallel and Universal Serial Bus ports; graphics support for 1,280- by 1,024-pixel resolution with 24-bit color; and Sound Blaster-compatible sound. It emulates a hard drive by segmenting a portion of the Ultra workstation's drive.

I had initial problems getting SunPCi to start up Windows. After many frustrating 'Device unable to load' messages, I figured out that the card had gotten partially unseated from its slot during shipment. Once it was reseated, it began running Windows 95. My test unit had Win95 loaded. New buyers might have to install an operating system.

Pass on the card

In benchmark testing, the card with 128M of RAM turned in a score of 14.1 on the Ziff-Davis Business Operation CPUmark99 tests. To put that in perspective, a 300-MHz Pentium II recently tested in the GCN Lab got a 22.6 on the same test.

But the computer-on-a-card failed to complete the ZD Winstone 99 and other WinBench 99 tests. It had no problem loading and running some of the office applications that are part of the benchmark tests, however, so there might have been some incompatibility with the benchmark scripts.








Box Score' '''
SunPCi Card 1.0

PCI card to run Windows inside a Sun Ultra workstation



Sun Microsystems Inc.,

Mountain View, Calif.;

tel. 800-555-9786

www.sun.com

Price: $495



+Combines the best of Solaris and
Windows

+Unclutters Unix users' desks

'Less than average performance for typical low-end PC



Usability
B+

Benchmark performance
C-

ZD's Business Winstone 99 14.1



Real-life requirements:

Sun Ultra workstation with at least 64M of RAM, 12M of storage for SunPCi software, and extra storage for Win95 or NT, which must be licensed separately

SunPCi card could not complete the ZD Winstone 99 test suite. Its CPUmark 99 score of 14.1 compares with a WinBench score of 10.0 for a 233-MHz Pentium MMX. For benchmark information, go to www.gcn.com/
gcnlab/benchmark
.



Although SunPCi is advertised as an all-in-one way to combine workstation and PC, it's not that simple. There are tools for cutting and pasting information between the Solaris and Windows screens. But for something as simple as accessing files from a CD-ROM, the best method is to map the CD drive on the Unix machine as a network drive under Windows.

Any folder to which the user has rights under Solaris can be mapped using the filename UNC. Once set up, this is an easy way of passing files back and forth between the two environments. For users who worry about security, Solaris acts as the final arbiter of file access rights, and Windows will run more securely through SunPCi Card than on a standalone PC.

It was easy to set up printers under SunPCi's Windows in a process identical to normal Windows printer installation. Users who want to dedicate a separate monitor to the Windows environment can route Windows sessions under Solaris to another monitor through SunPCi Card's own VGA connector.

Sun can take pride in the hardware and software development it devoted to make everything work together. SunPCi delivers the native ability to run Win95 or NT in the same box as Solaris, and even have them work together. Some kinks still must be worked out, and the Windows platform tends to be much more mercurial, which means that Sun will have to move fast to keep the SunPCi Card up to speed.

In a market where a PC, monitor and all the fixings now cost less than $1,000, does it make sense to pay $500 for a card that puts a PC inside an Ultra 5 or 10?

Depending on your needs, SunPCi Card could be just the ticket. It certainly is one of the most innovative products the GCN Lab has reviewed this year, and I look forward to seeing how Sun expands its capabilities.

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