NCD, IBM choose same day to put NCs on show

Two network computers go on show on the same day from the same manufacturer and differ in just one detail.

Question: What’s the difference between the NCD Explora Corporate Network Computer and the IBM Network Station?

Answer: They were both developed by NCD and they’re both fundamentally the same little black box--but the Explora is a little black box which lies flat and the Network Station sits up on its side. Oh, and when it gets here at the end of the year, the Network Station might be as much as $1500 cheaper.

Question: What makes either of these things anything other than an old-fashioned X-terminal?

Answer: Er ... attitude?

But it would not do to be too churlish about the occasion of one of the major NC reference designs rolling into town under two badges on the one day. The IBM Server Tour, a global affair which has dragged six tonne of heavy server through Europe and Asia, just happened to hit Auckland on the same day as local firm Business Computers was unveiling the new NCD Explora NC. And IBM staffer Jonathan Mitten just happened to have slipped a Network Station into his suitcase, although, unlike the Explora, IBM’s box will not be available locally until late this year, when it will probably cost around $NZ1000.

Both boxes are based on the design IBM commissioned from NCD, which last year took over IBM’s X-terminal plant in Austin, Texas and the Network Station is being jointly manufactured by both firms. The design affords the PowerPC 403GA processor (a line originally intended for embedded use) its most glamorous role yet.

Unlike the Oracle/Acorn NetStation, the NCD-IBM box is explicitly targeted for enterprise use--as a highly flexible, low cost-of-ownership alternative to the desktop PC. It supports network access over intranets using Ethernet and Token Ring connections, and can concurrently access Java, Windows NT, Unix, AS/400 and video applications. IBM’s version offers OS/2 RS/6000 S/390 and Lotus Notes groupware access.

IBM’s ships with 16Mb RAM standard, NCD’s with 4Mb. IBM has fitted its machine with a Soundblaster-compatible DSP and has more advanced plans for 100-BaseT and ATM support. NCD also has a high-end MIPS-powered model called the HMX at $4804.

And pricing at the low end? That, no doubt, will sort itself out.

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