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Super Micro super ready for Intel Nehalem Xeons

Boards galore, but still no chips

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SC08 While there was plenty of talk this week at the Supercomputing 2008 trade show in Austin, Texas about the just-announced "Shanghai" quad-core Opterons, as well as GPU-powered personal supercomputers based on nVidia's Tesla co-processors, the hot topic at the show is Intel's forthcoming "Nehalem" Xeon processors, which will sport two, four, and eight processor cores.

According to one server maker, server bigwigs as well as experts from supercomputing labs are being given previews of the Nehalems in private viewing rooms at the show - ones where journalists are not invited - and being told about the expected feeds and speeds of the processors running HPC code.

Thus far, Intel has been vague about when the Nehalems will debut in servers, except to say it will be in the first quarter of 2009. I had heard February 9 as a potential launch date, but the current thinking at SC08 is that it will be the end of March. To which I quipped to more than a few, it would not be surprising if it happens on March 35 or 39, which would technically still be in the first quarter, right?

But anyway. No one was at liberty to provide a launch date with any specificity, and the server makers and board makers I spoke to at the show didn't give the impression that they actually knew. I don't think Intel quite knows yet, based on their body language.

One company that is ready right now for the Nehalems, which have a look and smell of AMD's Opterons in that they have on-chip memory controllers and the QuickPath Interconnect, very much like the Opterons and their HyperTransport interconnect, is Super Micro, the maker of system boards used by some tier one server makers as well as plenty of tier-two and white box server makers.

Apparently Appro, Silicon Graphics, Sun Micro Systems and Verari Systems have signed up to use Super Micro Nehalem boards. IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard have not, according to the techs at the Super Micro booth.

The Sun Nehalem board in future blade servers I told you about yesterday, which packs two two-socket servers and an onboard quad data rate InfiniBand interconnect on a single board, looks custom made, not one of the Super Micro Nehalem boards on display at the show.

Super Micro is showing off three Nehalem system boards at the show. The first, the X8DA3, is a two-socket board based on Intel's "Tylersburg" IOH-36D chipset. The Nehalems support DDR3 main memory running at 1.3 GHz, 1.07 GHz, and 800 MHz, and this board has two pairs of six DIMMs and will support a maximum of 96 GB of main memory. It has two PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slots, one PCI-Express x4 slot, three legacy PCI-X slots, two Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, and six SATA drive ports. The motherboard also has two Type A internal USB ports for on-board flash memory drives for server virtualization hypervisors such as the embedded versions of VMware's ESX 3i and Citrix Systems' XenServer.

The X8DTN+ board from Super Micro is a beefier two-socket board, with more memory slots and taking up more space in the server box. It is based on the same Tylersburg chipset and has nine DIMM slots for each processor socket, for a total of 18 DIMMs and a maximum capacity of 144 GB. The board has two PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots, one PCI-U (a so-called "universal slot" invented by Super Micro that lets a few different types of PCI-Express cards plug into it), one PCI-Express x4 slot, and three legacy PCI-X slots. This board also has dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, six SATA drive ports, and two Type A flash ports.

The final Nehalem board on display at the show is for blade servers, and it comes in two flavors, one with Gigabit Ethernet networking and the other with InfiniBand. Both are based on the Tylersburg chipset as well.

The X8DTT has two LAN ports, and because the QuickPath Interconnect and on-chip memory controllers do a lot of the work that the chipsets in the front side bus style Xeon chips have to do, there is more room on the board.

In fact, on the Nehalem blades, the memory slots can be separated left and right as well as the CPU sockets and then staggered so the cooling of the electronics is easier and you can get a dozen memory slots on the blade board. And that is what Super Micro has done. So the blade has as much memory capacity as the standard Nehalem board above. The X8DTT board has one PCI-Express 2.0 slot and four SATA ports - I did not see a Type A flash port. The X8DIBX variant of this blade board has a single dual data rate (20 Gb/sec) InfiniBand port, which will make the HPC crowd happy. ®

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