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In my previous post on Larrabee I talked about the marketing of an ancient HP workstation. I ended with, “If anyone wants to confirm or deny, great!”

Followup from a reader: the story misses 3 additional changes to the machine. The more expensive business machine had: a bigger cabinet, more flashing lights on the front, and required 220 power. Apparently the business market wouldn’t take the machine seriously unless it required special power and wanted something with flashing lights so it looked more like a computer. The lights were completely random and the engineers wanted to hook them up so you could at least use them to see what was going on with the machine. And, no, the engineers didn’t win.

By the way, this isn’t meant as a diss against HP: I have two HP computers at home and love them, they make quality products. I’m just pointing out that even HP (which used to be known as the company that would market sushi by calling it “raw dead fish”) finds that marketing that contravenes rational thought is sometimes necessary. The “blinkenlights” story is a common theme, because it’s true. I recall an article (which I wish I had saved) from the early 90’s in the Wall Street Journal where people running the Social Security program were duped into thinking a computer company’s offerings were ready by being shown empty boxes with blinking lights inserted. “See, the computer is computing right now”. It was quite the scandal – front page news – when this ruse was uncovered.

Bonus quiz question: In researching (if you can call it that) this story, I ran across this site, which had an excellent question, “what was the world’s first personal computer?” Answer here. I was way wrong with the Altair. The answer, a computer I hadn’t heard of before, even bears on interactive computer graphics history, as it was the first computer experience for a famous graphics pioneer.

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More on Larrabee

I wrote earlier on Larrabee being delayed. A coworker pointed out this article from Jon Peddie Research, who know (and usually charge) more than I do. It makes a plausible case that cancelling this first version of Larrabee was the correct move by Intel, and that the experience gained is not wasted. JPR argues that the high-performance computing market is also high-margin, so needs fewer sales to be profitable. There are other gains from the project to date – anyway, a worthwhile read. I’ll be interested to see what’s next for Larrabee.

The magic of marketing and price differentials is fascinating to me. Books like The Underground Economist have some entertaining tales of how prices are set. Here’s a marketing story I heard (elsewhere), and it might even be true: HP had two versions of the series 800 workstation in the late 80’s/early 90’s, the only difference being, literally, one bit on a ROM chip. If the bit was set, then HP-UX could not be run on the workstation. Amazingly, the price for this version of the workstation was higher, even though it was seemingly less capable. This version was marketed to hospital administration, which at the time didn’t use HP-UX (so didn’t care); the workstations that could run HP-UX were sold to engineers. HP could honestly say there was a difference between the two workstations, say that one was tailored to hospital admin and the other to engineers, and so justify the price differential. If anyone wants to confirm or deny, great!

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