Seeking to re-establish itself as a force in the multibillion-dollar minicomputer market, Hewlett-Packard Co. is risking its future on RISC.

RISC -- for Reduced Instruction Set Computing -- is a new computer design that will be the cornerstone of the new line of Spectrum computers to be introduced today by Hewlett-Packard, which is based in Cupertino, Calif.

It describes the Spectrum as the most important new product introduction in its history.

Computers account for roughly half of Hewlett-Packard's $6.5 billion in annual revenue. The company never really has fully upgraded its 12-year-old HP 3000 computer series, and Spectrum is its attempt to remain a viable competitor in what has become a crowded, but sluggish computer marketplace that faces price wars.

"We think [Spectrum] will offer outstanding price/performance," said Mona Eraiba, a technology analyst with Salomon Bros. "This is a whole new product cycle for them, and this is the first introduction in that product line."

Just as car performance is measured by miles per hour, computer speeds are gauged by how many millions of instructions they can process in a second [MIPS]. Eraiba reported that, while Digital Equipment Corp. typically charges $90,000 per million instructions per second for its computers and Data General Corp. prices are roughly $50,000 per MIP, Hewlett-Packard's Spectrum "should be priced at around $45,000 per MIP."

Using RISC design, Spectrum is Hewlett-Packard's effort to integrate the company's lines of minicomputers and work stations into a common architecture that would let them all work together and run each other's programs.

Essentially, RISC represents an approach to simplifying instructions for computers. As computers have grown more complex, the instructions that run them -- for example, the instructions that coordinate a computer's processors with its memory -- have grown increasingly complex. In effect, the computer has several sets of instructions that it's trying to follow, and that creates a drag on processing speeds.

As the name implies, Reduced Instruction Set Computation attempts to streamline the number of instructions necessary to run the computer.