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IBM rejiggers x64 servers, blades

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IBM this week has tweaked System x and BladeCenter server lines to give customers more options in terms of processors, disk drives, and solid state disks. The new gadgets are aimed more at getting the machinery current than in radically altering or re-engineering the System x and BladeCenter products in the wake of six months of declining sales for Big Blue in the x64 server racket.

First up, IBM is making a beefier configuration of the System x3755 server available, and it uses a nifty HyperTransport gadget Big Blue created a few years ago to boost Opteron server performance. The System x3755 machine announced this week has three 2.7 GHz "Shanghai" Opteron 8384 processors and 12 GB of main memory standard. Last month, IBM added the Shanghai chips to the System x3755 server as well as putting new Xeons in the System x3950 M2 and x3850 M2 servers, which scale up as high as 16 processor sockets.

But the System x3755 machine announced in February had a single Shanghai chip that ran between 2.4 GHz to 2.7 GHz and had only 4 GB of memory in its standard incarnation. Plus, it did not include the CPU Pass Thru Card, which plugs into one of the Opteron sockets, like the beefier System x3755 put out does.

The CPU Pass Thru Card is a HyperTransport accelerator co-processor that IBM added to the System x3755 a few years back which allows a machine with three processors to do more work than a normal SMP configuration with four processors. (That's using the term processor to mean "chip in a socket," not "number of cores"). Basically, you get the performance of four Opteron 8000 series chips for the price of three.

The x3755 also has some electronics wizardry called Xcelerated Memory Technology, which lets memory in all eight DIMMs per processor socket run at full 667 MHz speeds instead of having to cut back the speeds to 533 MHz. The net effect of this can mean a machine with less memory capacity can do more work than another Opteron server design where more memory capacity requires the speed to be dropped.

The Shanghai chips came out last November and were updated at the end of January with low-voltage Opteron HE parts and a higher-speed Opteron SE part. The standard Opterons run at 75 watts, while the HE parts, which range in speed from 2.1 GHz to 2.3 GHz, burn 55 watts and the SE part clocks at 2.8 GHz and burns an unattractive 105 watts.

IBM has not formally announced that the HE or SE parts in its System x rack servers yet, but as we previously reported, they have been available in IBM's LS22 and LS42 blade servers since March 6. And if you go out onto IBM's online store, there is a configuration of the x3755 with the 2.8 GHz SE part in it. Go figure.

Anyway, the hefty x3755 configuration will be available on March 27 and costs $12,569. If you take the same x3755 and put four of the same 2.7 GHz Shanghais in the box and put in 16 GB of memory (you have to add memory to each of the four processors, and 16 GB is as close as you can get to 12 GB with this restriction), the machine costs $15,213. You can see why IBM wants to peddle the CPU Pass Thru gadget, which costs around $100 on the street. IBM is charging $1,849 for a single 2.7 GHz Opteron 8384, and that is most of the difference.

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