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It takes a boat load of cash to win a benchmark these days.

IBM has unseated Hewlett-Packard as the top transaction processing heavyweight with a 32 processor Unix server priced at more than $7 million. The p690 server running IBM's AIX version of Unix topped out at 680,613 transactions per minute using the TPC-C benchmark. HP held the lead for but a couple of weeks with a 64 processor Itanium 2 (Madison) server running Windows.

Benchmarks can often prove more of a distraction than a useful tool for gauging server performance. Vendors leapfrog each other from month to month and use servers so chock-full of memory and processors that only the richest customers could afford to give them a go.

But this particular benchmark brings up a couple items of note in IBM's servers strategy.

For one, IBM used its own DB2 database to run the TPC-C benchmark, displacing Oracle as its preferred choice. This must have triggered a huge sigh of relief within Big Blue. Oracle made IBM look a bit silly with its advertisements, noting that IBM servers work best when running Oracle code.

More importantly, the public trouncing of an Itanium 2 server again points to which processor holds the most mindshare within IBM. The company only announced the 1.7GHz Power4 chips used in the record breaking p690 last week and was ready, willing and able to back up the new chips with a solid benchmark.

Compare this to IBM's release of its first Itanium 2 server two weeks ago. IBM had a benchmark ready for this box that also beat out HP but posted the announcement on its Web site without any fanfare.

Make no mistake. Power4 is the 64bit king within IBM and with good reason. No rival has yet to match IBM's ingenious dual processor core packaging for the Power4. There's also a vast list of software ready to run on Power4, which won't be the case for Itanic any time soon.

In the meantime. any user out there with $7.6 million can place their order for a top-of-the-line p690. If you're a bargain shopper, the HP box might be a better option. It churned out 658,277 transactions per minute for a paltry $6.4 million. ®

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