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IBM scampered on Tuesday to announce new processors for its high end Unix systems on the same day that rival Hewlett-Packard will lay out its enterprise hardware plans.

IBM will start shipping its high end p690 server - code-named Regatta - with 1.5GHz and 1.7GHz Power4+ processors by the end of May. Big Blue will also make these chips available for its eight processor p655 system and will sell its 16 processor p670 with the 1.5GHz chip.

It's not unusual for IBM to start talking up new kit before its actually available, but in this case, the company was forced to do something of note ahead of HP's expected hardware and software announcements. HP will hold an event later in the day with CEO Carly Fiorina shedding more light on the company's planned Itanium 2 servers, Utility Data Center (UDC) technology and OpenView systems management software.

When the new servers do arrive from IBM, they should show a significant performance boost over current 1.3GHz Power4-based servers. The 32 processor p690 will feature a new 567MHz memory interface up from 433MHz and PCI-X slots as opposed to current PCI slots. In addition, total memory has jumped from 256Gbytes to 512Gbytes. An eight processor version of the p690 will start at $493,386.

The p670 has received similar enhancements and will start at $190,411 with four processors.

The smaller p655 does not start shipping with the new 1.5GHz and 1.7GHz chips until late July.

IBM Power4-based servers are the pride of its 64bit line of systems. The strong performance of the dual core Power4 chip has helped IBM make much needed market share gains against Sun Microsystems and HP. IBM expects to keep up the pressure on its rivals in 2004 with a 64 processor system -code-named Squadron - based on the Power5 chip. The new processor is expected to debut at 1.8GHz and scale up to 3GHz.

These pSeries Unix systems receive far more attention than the Itanium 2-based server xSeries server IBM released last week. IBM has tucked the x450 and its Itanic 2 processors away in closet, hoping they do not disrupt the pSeries systems' success. ®

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