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IBM grills HP with 4.7GHz Power6-based box

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IBM's protracted Power6 dance ended today with the revelation of a midrange server that shows blistering benchmark numbers.

Big Blue has announced a revamped version of its p 570 system that can hold one to eight of the new 4.7GHz dual-core Power6 chips. When running the TPC benchmark, an eight-way version of the p 570 reached a score of 1.6m, which IBM reckons is three times the performance per core of HP's top Itanium-based Superdome server. The bad news, however, is that customers won't be able to buy the exact IBM box and software used in the TPC test until late November. HP is expected to have updated its Itanium servers by then.

According to IBM, the TPC score stands as a one off anyway. The Nov. ship date is only the result of IBM using Rev 9 of DB2 for the benchmark. That database doesn't ship until November. In addition, the revised database has little effect on the total system performance, according to IBM.

In the meantime, customers can purchase the p 570 in volume with 3.5GHz, 4.2GHz and 4.7GHz chips, starting June 8.

The 4.7GHz chips, in particular, should allow IBM to capture a number of top benchmark scores. IBM has focused on upping the GHz of its high-end server processors at a time when rivals such as HP, Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu have concentrated on making lower power, multi-core processors.

"The processor speed of the Power6 chip is nearly three times faster than the latest HP Itanium processor that runs HP's server line," IBM said. "Even more impressive, the processor bandwidth of the Power6 chip - 300 gigabytes per second - could download the entire iTunes catalog in about 60 seconds - 30 times faster than HP's Itanium."

The Power6 chip had once been scheduled to arrive in 2006.

Despite the delay, IBM thinks it remains poised to beat up on HP and Sun.

"I think we actually have a situation here right now when we look at the broad, competitive landscape where both Sun and HP are starting to fall back in the Unix market," said Brad McCredie, IBM's lead engineer behind Power6.

From Power5 to Power6, IBM moved from an out of order design to an in order design - a drastic change which should require software recompilation for top performance. McCredie, however, downplayed the shift, nothing that the 4.7GHz parts allow IBM to beat rivals today using a standard, older version of AIX and other standard software.

IBM did confirm that it will ship AIX 6 in November, specifically for the Power6-based servers. The company also plans to spread Power6 across its p and i Series server lines in the coming months.

McCredie denied speculation that IBM will struggle to produce enough of the 4.7GHz chips to satisfy near-term demand.

"We have been enjoying very good yields and supply capability," he said.

Both Sun and HP have reported strong, recent high-end server sales. Sun currently competes against IBM with its own UltraSPARC IV+-based servers and a new line of systems built with partner Fujistu. HP goes at IBM with servers based on Itanium chips from partner Intel.

It looks as if Sun and HP will have to rely on basic speed boosts and minor chip tweaks throughout 2007. Neither company has a major chip overhaul planned until 2008, when Sun will pick up its 16-core Rock chips, while HP will move to a four-core version of Itanium.

IBM will likely enjoy a healthy performance lead over Sun and HP until they move to those next-generation products. ®

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