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The world's finest server makers mobilized their marketing armies on Monday, hoping to draw as much attention as possible to their latest supercomputing wares.

Day one of the premier supercomputing conference - SC2004 - brought server cluster announcements from HP and Dell, new Itanium chips from Intel and a new high performance Unix server from IBM. Along with the hardware, the latest Top500 supercomputer list was released. As expected, IBM captured the top spot with its PowerPC-based Blue Gene system, SGI took second and NEC moved from first to the third with the Earth Simulator.

For its part, HP - the branding specialist - has developed a new brand for its prepackaged server cluster line. HP will now sell Itanium, Xeon and Opteron systems along with various storage boxes under the Unified Cluster Portfolio heading. HP sells pre-made clusters of up to 512 servers. A 16 server system starts at $62,000.

HP has also souped up its Itanium server line. The new two-processor rx1620 and rx2620 systems, with 1.6GHz Itanium 2s, have been made part of the Unified Cluster Portfolio. They can be bought as part of the equally new HP Cluster Platform 6000. In addition, the existing four-processor rx4640 has been upgraded with a 1.6GHz Itanium 2 that has a monster 9MB L3 cache (more on that later).

HP's Integrated Lights Out (iLO) management is now available on one- to four-processor Itanium-based Integrity systems. The company additionally announced that its midrange and high-end Integrity systems would receive Intel's latest Itanium 2s early next year.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Dell has tuned up one of its existing prepackaged clusters to use Intel's x86-64-bit Xeon chips. The new SC1425 can ship with up to 256 1U servers. An eight-server box starts at $33,500.

As mentioned, Intel did the expected and boosted the performance of its Itanium 2 processor line. Most notably, Intel has packed out the 1.6GHz Itanium 2 meant for multiprocessor servers with 9MB of L3 cache. Intel also upped the cache on another 1.6GHz chip to 6MB from 3MB. There's also a 1.50GHz chip available with a 4MB L3 cache. The beefy chip costs $4,226, the middle product costs $1,980 and the lower-end part costs $910 - all in volume quantities.

For dual-processor servers, Intel released two 1.6GHz chips with 3MB of cache. One has a 533MHz front side bus, while the other has a 400MHz FSB. They cost $1,172 and $851, respectively.

As promised, Intel also shoved a low voltage Itanium 2 out the door. The new 1.30GHz chip costs $530.

IBM is set to release a midrange Unix powerhouse based on its Power5 processor. The new p5 575 replaces the Power4-based p655.

IBM will ship the 2U server with up to 8 of its 1.9GHz Power5s, up to 256GB of memory and up to 1,468GB of storage. IBM has set a first quarter of 2005 launch date for the system. ®

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