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IBM begins selling Cell blades

Big Blue's $18,995 QS20 Cell blade servers are geared for encryption, medical imaging and seismic research.

IBM has started selling blade servers that use the nine-core Cell processor originally developed for video games.

The QS20 blades, each with two 3.2GHz Cell Broadband Engine processors, are good for high-performance computing tasks such as seismic research, encryption, digital image rendering and military surveillance.

An IBM representative wouldn't say how much the blades cost, but a customer announcement said they run $18,995 each. The systems, announced Tuesday, are expected to be available Sept. 29, with a $1,950 InfiniBand high-speed network option arriving Oct. 27, IBM said.

IBM, Sony and Toshiba co-developed the Cell processor for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Toshiba video products. The chip has a main Power processor core and eight helper cores specially designed for types of calculations.

IBM Cell blade customers include the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and RapidMind, a software development system seller. IBM also is selling the systems to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico for a massive supercomputer with at least 16,000 Cell processors due to be completed in 2007.

Unlike IBM blades with Big Blue's Power processors, Intel's Xeon or Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, the Cell blades can't be intermixed with other varieties in the same BladeCenter chassis. The systems run Red Hat's Fedora Core 5 version of Linux.