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IBM bumps up Unix flagship with SOI

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IBM still has some life to squeeze out of its POWER3 chips, and today it tops up the RS/6800 S80 line with processors based on Silicon on Insulator (SOI) process technology. Except it isn't called the S80 any more, and it isn't even the RS/6000 these days, either. So as two successful brands slip down the disposal chute, say hello to the "eServer pSeries p680". We're sure this makes sense to someone, somewhere....

Marketing whimsy aside, the new S80 beats HP's Superdome to market - although only just - and IBM's Unix chief Jim McGaughan tells us it amounts to a 30pc speed improvement over last year's model, as you'd expect: the new processors clock in at 600Mhz, compared to the 450Mhz in today's S80 range.

IBM claims real world improvements of 10 per cent in Transactions per dollar benchmarks over Sun's E10000 Starfire, and also claims top spot for the SPECweb, Java, TPC-C, and SAP benchmarks amongst others. According to our blurb, the p680 wins in several of these categories simply because none of the others showed up: to whit, the PeopleSoft and Baan benchmarks.

In fact, our press material boldly - and scientifically - states that the pSeries is the "Most powerful OLTP @ $4x.xx" ... figures that rocked us to our core, we must admit. How do you pronounce this, exactly?

Unconvincing supporting material aside, the S80 has proved itself a successful flagship for IBM's Unix midrange. IBM introduced copper to the S80 a year ago, and added the same technology to the "deskside" and rack versions in May. Like-for-like sales comparisons are getting to be as difficult as performance comparisons though, as IBM notches up more sales of smaller S80s than the big-box E10000s.

McGaughan was keen not to get into the SMP bragging wars that Sun seems to have made its speciality. The 24way eserver products can still oust 64way, systems he says. The entry barrier is lower too, according to IBM, with a 6CPU 4Gb memory system starting at $420,000, compared to the $750,000 and upwards for the Starfires.

Hard disks and fans can be hot-swapped, but in-place memory and chip upgrades aren't possible. However dynamic CPU allocation means you can take processors (and iffy memory banks) off line. Full details should emerge on the IBM website later today.

IBM's Unix midrange - whatever it'll be called this time next year - will be revamped with the POWER4 architecture featuring multiple cores on a die, and a fiendishly clever memory architecture. Rival HP is expected to migrate its Superdome architecture downstream before the end of the year. Sun has UltraSparc III just about ready to ship, but the serious servers based on the sCOMA architecture won't be ready til next Spring. Which is just about the time for another Alpha Wildfire speed bump. ®

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