Summer 1992

MIPS fall where they may

by Lee Sherman

In the never-ending race for workstation price-performance, NeXT holds an advantage with its current product line, but analysts warn that the company will have to move to RISC technology to keep up with increasingly aggressive competition.

As with high-performance race cars, workstation performance is typically measured by raw speed. But in NeXT's case, that's not enough. Even without a RISC (reduced instruction set computing) chip, NeXT systems offer the best price-performance ratio of its workstation competitors, with $200 per MIPS (million instructions per second) for the NeXTstation Turbo.

"NeXT has put together a workstation-class package that includes a multitasking operating system, integrated communications, and a high-resolution display, and it is putting it out at a PC price," said Nina Lytton, editor of the Open Systems Advisor newsletter, based in Boston.

Recently, however, other workstation vendors, such as Sun Microsystems and Digital Equipment Corporation, have also lowered their MIPS prices in an attempt to attract traditional PC buyers. In the low-end market, Sun's SPARCstation ELC offers 21 MIPS for $4995, or $238 per MIPS. The HP Apollo 9000 425e operates at 15 MIPS, for a rate of $366 per MIPS, while the DECstation 3100 offers 15-MIPS performance for $4995, or $333 per MIPS.

"The old rule used to be that every year you have a doubling in MIPS and a halving in price, which is a fourfold increase," said David Evancha, director of research at Workgroup Technologies of Hampton, New Hampshire. "Recently, prices for workstations and products that have workstation capabilities have driven the price per MIPS way down."

NeXT also compares favorably on the higher end. In his NeXTWORLD Expo keynote, NeXT CEO Steve Jobs compared the per-MIPS price of NeXT machines and Sun workstations. The monochrome NeXTstation Turbo configured with 16MB of RAM and a 250MB hard disk, which carries a list price of $6995, has a price of $280 per MIPS. The Sun SPARCstation IPX, operating at 28.5 MIPS, is priced at $421 per MIPS. The NeXTstation Turbo Color is $540 per MIPS, compared with the color SPARCstation 2, which has a cost of $721 per MIPS.

But most industry analysts contend that the juice has been squeezed out of the 68000 line, and that in order to continue lowering its price-per-MIPS ratio, NeXT eventually will need to switch to a RISC processor. "RISC price-performance is coming down so fast, NeXT is not going to be competitive unless it moves to RISC," said Lytton.

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