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Big Blue shrinks 'Westmere' Xeon towers

More oomph for SMBs

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IBM continues to round out its System x and BladeCenter x64-based server lineup, and today, it kicked out two more machines: a pair of System x tower boxes aimed primarily at small and medium businesses or the remote offices of larger firms.

The System x3400 M3 is a tower box that uses the four-core variants of Intel's "Westmere-EP" Xeon 5600 processors, and it is also the least powerful of the two-socket tower machines IBM sells. (IBM sells a single-socket x3400 M3 server based on the Xeon 3400s, which is the company's entry tower box). IBM's announcement letter shows the x3400 M3 only supporting the four-core E5640, the 2.66 GHz version of the Westmere-EP chip with 12 MB of on-chip cache, but IBM's Web site shows the E5620 (2.4 GHz) and E5630 (2.53 GHz) processors are also available.

The X3400 M3 has sixteen memory slots and supports DDR3 memory sticks in 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB capacities; 4 GB is the standard, so if you want to use fatter sticks to leave room for upgrading later, you'll need to tell IBM to rejigger the box. The system has an eight-port SAS/SATA RAID disk controller on the mobo and six peripheral slots - five PCI-Express slots (one x16 and four x8) and one ancient PCI slot.

Depending on the model, the System x3400 M3 comes with eleven or seven bays, with eight 2.5-inch drive bays or four 3.5-inch bays, respectively, plus three other bays for tape and DVD options. The box has a dual-port Gigabit Ethernet controller and an integrated management module for remote control of the system. With the E5640, 8 GB of memory, and no disks, the System x3400 M3 costs $2,999; x3400 machines using older and less powerful Xeon 5500 processors cost from $1,399 to $1,899. Customers have to ask themselves how much they really want those extra cycles.

If SMBs really do want more cores under the skins of their towers, then they will want the System x3500 M3 anyway, which is also a two-socket box but one that uses the six-core Westmere-EPs.

The x3500 M3 announced this week sports the top-end, six-core Xeon X5680, which runs at 3.33 GHz. Other Xeon 5600s, with lower clock speeds, fewer cores, or both, have been available on this machine since they were refreshed in the wake of the Westmere-EP launch in March. IBM also supports the low-voltage L5609 (1.86 GHz) and L5630 (2.13 GHz) 40-watt parts and the L5640 (2.26 GHz) 60-watt part in this server. The x3500 M3 has 16 memory slots, like the x3400 M3, but it differs in that it supports 16 GB memory sticks.

However, don't get the wrong impression that the x3500 M3 can support 256 GB. Like all Westmere-EP machines, the memory controllers on the chips cannot address any more than 192 GB in a single memory space, which means you can only populate the board with a dozen 16 GB sticks to reach maximum memory of 192 GB. (With 8 GB sticks, you can use all sixteen slots and get 128 GB of maximum memory).

The x3500 M3 has six PCI-Express 2.0 slots (one x16 and five x8) plus a single PCI slot. It has the same eight-port SAS/SATA disk controller as the x3400 M3, and the same dual Gigabit Ethernet ports. It has eleven or nineteen drive bays, against depending on the size of the disks you want to use. IBM has a special bid version that lets customers cram 24 small form factor disks into the machine.

This is more peripheral expansion than the x3400 M3 and is one of the reasons why IBM charges a premium for this machine. With a single 3.33 GHz Xeon X5680, 8 GB of memory, and no disk, the System x3500 M3 costs $5,505. Machine using four-core Xeon 5500 or 5600 processors cost considerably less, from $2,345 to $3,565, depending on the model and configuration.

Both machines will be available on July 30. They support Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and 2008, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, and Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 4 and 5. VMware's ESX Server 3.5 hypervisor, which is a bit long in the tooth like SLES 10, Windows Server 2003, and RHEL 4, is also certified for the boxes. VMware's vSphere 4.0 and its ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor, which have been out for a year, is not. Go figure. ®

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