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IBM pumps Unix line full of Power5+

The plus doesn't stand for more GHz

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IBM is aiming low with its highest-end processor to date. The company today kicked off the release of the Power5+ chip by announcing three new systems that slot into the low-end of its Unix server line, a new workstation and a server aimed at researchers. The lower-end servers coupled with a surprisingly slow introductory Power5+ speed may bother some customers who were looking for IBM to really flex its computing muscle in the near-term.

Customers have long expected the Power5+ follow on to the Power5 chip currently sitting in IBM's Unix server line. Many, however, looked for the chip to debut at speeds somewhere between 2.0GHz and 3.0GHz. Instead, IBM has only delivered a 1.9GHz chip. That speed matches the 1.9GHz Power5 processors available in some of IBM's Unix gear today.

While hardware makers across the board have started to shy away from promoting GHz as a crucial measure, IBM's processor launch takes this strategy to a new level.

Instead of focusing on the Power5+'s raw speed, IBM would prefer that customers pay attention to the 90-nanometer, as opposed to 130-nanometer, process used to build the chip. This means the Power5+ has a smaller size than the regular Power5 and is more energy efficient. And, in due course, the Power5+ will prove to be a faster chip as well. IBM has vowed to bring the dual-core processor to its midrange and high-end systems sometime next year and likely at a higher clock rate.

In the meantime, some customers may be impressed by IBM's new fleet of low-end and Express systems aimed at customers hoping to get pretty flashy kit at a discount.

Most notably, IBM has unveiled the System p5 550Q, which is effectively an 8-way server. The box will hold two of IBM's new "quad core modules" that package pairs of the Power5+ chips together. With two of the modules and multi-threading, the server can churn through 16 software threads. Starting in mid-October, customers can order this box with 1.5GHz Power5+ chips.

On the lower-end is the p5 520, which is a two-way server (a single dual-core chip) that runs on the 1.9GHz Power5+ chip. IBM pitches it as a solid database server or a wondrous Java application server. Its new big brother is the p5 550 that ships with either one or two of the Power5+ chips running at 1.9GHz as well. This system is clearly meant to handle larger software workloads.

For the easily impressed, IBM also announced the p5 505, which is a 1U box that runs on 1.5GHz and 1.65GHz versions of the old Power5 chip.

All of the servers will run IBM's AIX version of Unix or Linux operating systems from Red Hat and Novell and ship later this month.

A little off the beaten path, IBM also showed the new IntelliStation Power 285 workstation and the 16-way p5 575 server. The Power 285 marks IBM's first major Unix workstation revamp in many months. It will ship with one of the Power5+ chips. For serious computing loads, IBM put out the p5 575, which is billed as a favorite of the supercomputer crowd. In the past, customers could buy the server with eight 1.9GHz Power5 chips, but they'll now have access to sixteen 1.5GHz Power5+ chips in the same 2U space. IBM expects customers will see up to 50 per cent better overall performance with the revamped hardware.

Along with the new systems, IBM touted a software package called the Integrated Virtualization Manager (ILM). This management application is meant to simplify the way administrators work with partitions. It contains the fabled wizards and web-based GUIs that we've all come to know and love and can "create a MicroPartition ready for OS installation of either AIX 5L or Linux with a mere 3 clicks of the mouse."

IBM has enjoyed a serious lead over rivals Sun Microsystems, HP and Intel with its dual-core Power chip. It introduced the dual-core Power4 in 2001 and has watched as Sun and HP only recently equipped their Unix servers with dual-core parts. In addition, a few dozen businesses out there are still waiting for Intel to prove it has a dual-core Itanium ready. Meanwhile, the Power5+ marks IBM's fourth generation dual-core effort.

Still, of all IBM's recent chip launches, this must rank near the bottom. IBM did not wow with speed or super-sized gear. Instead it took the much more humble approach of asking customers to focus on lower power consumption and more chips in less space. IBM will still blow the competition away on countless benchmarks, but it has lost a bit of the luster that has been following its Unix line.®

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