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IBM slots 'Lynnfield' Xeons into System x

Aiming low at SMBs

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If you want to play in the x64 server racket, you need high-end boxes that offer lots of enterprise-class features. You need entry machines that offer the best bang for the buck and a low price. And you need midrange machines that split the difference without breaking the bank account.

IBM has always been good at the high-end and done reasonably well with midrange machines, but it has been challenged by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Fujitsu among small businesses and the small machines they like to buy.

The delivery of the "Lynnfield" Xeon 3400 processors - glorified Core i7 chips in the Nehalem family sporting four cores and tweaked in minor ways for single-socket servers - gives Big Blue and its partner channel another chance to take a run at SMBs with cheap but powerful enough servers to ramp up shipment numbers and perhaps gain some market share.

Today, IBM is launching two System x machines based on the Xeon 3400 processors, one rack box and one tower box.

The System x3250 M3 is a 1U rack server that supports four of the six Xeon 3400 processors: the 2.4 GHz X3430, the 2.53 GHz X3440, the 2.66 GHz X3450, and the 2.8 GHz X3460. The Xeon 3430 does not have HyperThreading, by the way, but all of the other Xeon 3400s do (including the two that IBM is not supporting in this rack server).

IBM is not allowing the server to support the top-end X3470 chip, which runs at 2.93 GHz. That's probably because the chip - at a list price of $589 each in 1,000-unit trays (and costing much more when you buy from a server maker in onesies) - is too expensive for SMB shops, particularly given the modest performance gain compared to the X3460, which lists for $316 from Intel.

IBM is also not supporting the much more interesting L3426 low-voltage Xeon 3400 part in the System x3250 M3 server, which costs $284 and which only runs at 1.86 GHz. This L3426 part is interesting in that it has a 45 watt thermal design point instead of the 95 watt rating of the other Xeon 3400 processors in the Lynnfield lineup.

The interesting thing about the L3426 is that its Turbo Boost feature allows one core to crank up to 3.2 GHz if the other three cores are sitting idle - a much larger span than the Turbo Boost feature on any other Xeon 3400, 3500, or 5500 processor to date. The L3426 might be exactly the processor that IBM needs to sell to customers who want burst mode power, but low power consumption generally.

Anyway, the System x3250 M3 server supports UDIMM or RDIMM DDR3 main memory, and supports 1 GB, 2 GB, and 4 GB UDIMMs and 1 GB, 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB RDIMMs. The machine has four memory slots, which means memory tops out at 8 GB today with 2 GB UDIMMs, with 4 GB UDIMM support coming in the first quarter of 2010. With RDIMMs, the machine tops out at 16 GB today using 4 GB memory modules, but will be able to use 8 GB RDIMMs in the first quarter and therefore double the main memory. Regardless of the type of memory you choose, the base System x3250 M3 comes with 2 GB of memory (two 1 GB modules) standard.

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