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IBM beefs System x with latest Intel, AMD chips

BladeCenters revved too

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IBM's high-end System x line has been updated with the faster x64 processors from both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. IBM has also updated the Opteron processors used in its BladeCenter blade servers as well.

The "Dunnington" Xeon 7400 series chips were launched last September, sporting four-core and six-core variants aimed at four-socket and larger servers. While it always takes server makers some time to qualify new chips on their machines, for whatever reason, IBM took its time getting the Dunnington chips into is System x boxes.

Considering that Big Blue tends to focus on the high-end of the x64 server space, this might have been a contributing factor in the 32 per cent revenue decline IBM posted in the fourth quarter for the combined System x and BladeCenter designs. IBM has moved with a little more spring in its step to get the quad-core "Shanghai" Opterons from AMD into its System x and BladeCenter machines.

The Shanghai chips debuted last November and were updated at the end of January with low-voltage Opteron HE parts and a higher-speed Opteron SE part.

IBM's high-end x3950 M2 server can now use Intel's fastest Dunnington Xeon MP chip, the six-core X7460 chip with 9 MB of L2 cache and 16 MB of L3 cache on the chip running at 2.66 GHz. The x3950 M2 is based on four-socket motherboards. Up to 16 sockets, for a total of 96 cores, can be glued together using IBM's EX4 chipset. IBM will make this faster Xeon MP chip available in the x39650 on March 10. On that same day, the smaller four-socket x3850 M2 server will be available using the quad-core Dunnington E7420 processor running at 2.13 GHz. This chip has 6 MB of L2 cache and 8 MB of L3 cache.

The System x3755 quad-socket server will also be available on March 6 with AMD's standard quad-core Shanghai processors, which run at between 2.4 GHz and 2.7 GHz. The faster Opteron SE and lower-powered Opteron HE parts are not yet available for the x3755, but if you really wanted them, IBM would almost certainly sell them on a special bid basis until it has them formally certified in the boxes.

The quad-core Opteron HE chips in the Shanghai generation are, however, going to be available on March 9 for the company's two-socket LS22 and four-socket LS42 blade servers for its BladeCenter chassis. IBM is shipping the 2.3 GHz Opteron 2376 HE in the LS22 blade and either the 2.2 GHz Opteron 8374 HE or 2.3 GHz Opteron 8376 HE in the LS42 blade.

IBM is also shipping 8 GB DDR2 main memory DIMMs for these blades as well to double up the memory density alongside the doubling up of processing capacity compared to the existing dual-core Opteron HE chips.

While it is hard to say why IBM's System x and BladeCenter sales slumped in the third quarter and then plummeted in the second quarter, one other factor aside from the lack of Dunnington chips and the impending Shanghai chips was the looming "Nehalem" processors from Intel, which are expected to launch before the end of March.

With the Nehalems offering twice the processor performance and somewhere between three and four times the memory bandwidth of current two-socket Xeon machines, this was probably as big a factor as the economic meltdown. HP's ProLiant server line took a similar hit in the fiscal 2009 first quarter ended January 31, with sales down 22.3 per cent to $2.32bn. IBM swooned further, but HP didn't escape market realities either. ®

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