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IBM joyfully outs Core i3 chips in entry servers

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As the chip maker said it would back in mid-December, Intel will shortly round out its Core i3, i5, and i7 lines of mobile and desktop processors. To this end, the 32 nanometer "Arrandale" laptop and "Clarkdale" desktop processors make their debut this Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show 2010 in Las Vegas.

But some PC and server makers can't wait until the chip launch to talk about their wares. IBM, which is eager to bolster its entry System x x64 server business, is one of the blabbers who jumped the Clarkdale gun by announcing two servers that use two of the Core i3 chips.

The System x3200 M3 tower server supports Core i3, Pentium, and Celeron processors alike, and sports DDR3 main memory with error correction (if you want to pay a premium) or not (if you don't). IBM is supporting the dual-core Core i3-530, which runs at 2.93 GHz and which has 4 MB of L3 cache on chip, as well as the i3-540, which runs at 3.06 GHz and which has the same 4 MB cache, in the x3200 M3 server.

Dual-core Pentium G6950 chips spinning at 2.8 GHz (3 MB cache) and Celeron G1101 chips revving at 2.26 GHz (2 MB cache) are also allowed in the box. The Clarkdale Core i3 chips may have an integrated video card on the chip package, but the Pentium and Celeron chips do not, so IBM slaps a low-end Matrox graphics controller with 16 MB of video memory onto the system board.

The x3200 M3 has four DDR3 memory slots with unregistered DIMMs and six for registered DIMMs, and supports up to 48 GB using 8 GB DIMMs. But no SMB buying an entry server like this, or an enterprise customer plunking these down in remote offices and across departments, will shell out big bucks for these fat memory sticks. For economical purposes, 8 GB, or maybe 16 GB, is the practical memory limit on this box.

Depending on the model, an integrated SATA or SAS disk controller with RAID 0 striping and RAID 1 mirroring is included, and RAID 5/6 capability can be added by using a dedicated PCI-X slot. The box has two PCI and three PCI-Express slots on top of this, and an integrated Gigabit Ethernet NIC. The x3200 M3 tower has seven drive bays as standard and can be special ordered with eleven bays if you need more room for peripherals. The tower can be equipped with a single 400 watt power supply, or with redundant 430 watt power supplies for those who are nervous about power supply failures.

With the Core i3-530 chip and 1 GB of main memory, the base System x3200 M3 costs $1,055; jumping up to the faster Core i3-540 chip bumps the price of the bare-bones machine to $1,069.

The second box coming out of Big Blue today is the rack-mounted System x3250 M3, which comes in a 1U form factor and which supports the same Celeron G1101, Pentium G6950, and Core i3-530 and Core i3-540 processor SKUs. The rack chassis supports two 3.5-inch disks or four 2.5-inch disks and has a 351 watt power supply, while the system board has twin Gigabit Ethernet controllers, an integrated SAS or SATA disk controller, and the Matrox graphics card built in. It also has two PCI-Express and one PCI-X slot, plus a reserved PCI-Express x4 slot used by the RAID disk controller. The System x3250 M3 with the 3.93 GHz dual-core Core i3-530 with 1 GB of main memory sells for $1,055.

On these two servers, IBM is supporting Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008, Red Hat's Enterprise Linux Server 4 and 5, and Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 and 11. VMware's ESX 4.0 and ESXi 4.0 hypervisors are also supported. As has been the case on prior System x machines, various implementations of the Xen hypervisor have not been certified on the boxes, and Hyper-V has also yet to be certified.

Both new Core i3-enabled System x boxes start shipping on January 22. ®

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