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Chinese PC maker and server wannabee Lenovo has announced a new line of systems based on Intel's Atom embedded x64 processor. Even a "real" PC maker believes there are customer workloads where modestly powered x86 and x64 processors are perfectly fine - and perhaps even preferable to full-blown multi-core x64 chips.

The Lenovo 3000 H200 tower PCs are based on the Atom 230 processor - codenamed 'Diamondville' - that Intel created for so-called nettop uses (embedded servers and cheapo desktops). The Atom 230 chip is distinct from the 'Silverthorne' Atom Z5xx series in that it has HyperThreading on its single core and is different from the Atom N270, which includes SpeedStep power conservation electronics and is aimed at netbooks.

The Atom 230 chip does not have the VT virtualization electronics on the chip. But it is a 64-bit processor, which means it can in theory address lots of memory - although the number of memory slots on nettop motherboards tends to be few and the real limit on main memory.

The Atom 230 runs at 1.6GHz, and it includes 32KB of L1 instruction cache, 24KB of L1 data cache, and 512KB of L2 cache. The Atoms employ the old front side bus architecture that Intel is starting to do away with now that it has a more elegant and higher bandwidth QuickPath Interconnect for "Nehalem" desktop and server chips. But for Atom-sized workloads, the old FSB is fine for now, and the 533MHz bus is good enough for a 1.6GHz chip.

The key thing is that the Atom 230 chip burns about 4W, and costs $29 in 1000-unit quantities. The latter number means you can make a really cheap PC (and maybe even a baby server) out of it, so long as you don't expect to break any benchmark records for raw performance. The fact that the Atom 230 nettop board uses the cheap Intel 945G doesn't hurt either.

It is interesting to note that Lenovo did not opt to drop the dual-core Atom 330 chip into the new machine. It doubles chip power consumption to 8 watts, but it would give the PC four threads to play with. The price difference is not huge, but $43 per 1000 chips is more expensive, even if it does roughly double the performance. You can buy a ten-pack of Mini-ITX boards based on the Atom 230s for between $800 and $900 at end user retail prices, so the choice of chip can affect the overall system price.

This only matters because Lenovo is trying to expand the PC market with very low-cost machinery that it can sell into small businesses and to consumers, and as is the case with its PC business, Lenovo's fledgling server business is going to be counting on sales in its home market in China, where people and SMBs don't have a lot of cash and where electricity usage is sometimes (still) an issue.

How low-cost? The entry 3000 H200 tower PC has a list price of $249, including an Atom 230, 1GB of memory, a 160GB disk, a 100Mb/s Ethernet port, a 16x DVD drive, the integrated GMA 950 graphics card, and Windows HP Home Edition. If you want a higher grade of mouse and keyboard and a DVD drive that records, the price goes up to $387.

The Lenovo Atom tower PC will be available on 24 March. And the funny bit about the new machine is that thanks to a Lenovo's acquisition of IBM's PC business several years ago and a more recent partnership that has Lenovo reselling IBM's System x servers under Lenovo's own ThinkServer brand, IBM has to help get the word out about the Atom PCs as well as other boxes Lenovo sells.

How long until Lenovo builds a supercomputer based on these Atom mobos running Red Flag Linux? ®

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