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IBM releases low-end Unix server

Big Blue brings its Power4+ processor to the low end of its Unix server line, making the new chip an option across the company's entire line.

IBM has brought its Power4+ processor to the low end of its Unix server line, making the new chip an option across the company's entire line a year and a half after it was first introduced.

IBM plans to announce the new system, the dual-processor p615, on Wednesday, the same day it goes on sale. The server replaces a model with the older Power III processor and attacks a stronghold IBM had largely left to rival Sun Microsystems. It also indicates that Big Blue isn't leaving the low-end server market just to Intel-based systems.

The system's starting price of $5,745 with a single 1.2GHz Power4+ processor and 1GB of memory rises to $11,695 with two processors and 4GB of memory. It's available either with IBM's version of Unix, called AIX, or with Linux, which costs somewhat less. For example, a two-processor model with 4GB of memory costs $10,695.

As part of a lawsuit seeking more than $1 billion from IBM, Unix intellectual property holder SCO Group has threatened to revoke on June 13 IBM's license to ship AIX. IBM argues it has a perpetual and irrevocable license.

The p615 is available as a standalone machine or as a rack-mounted model 7-inches thick. Its memory capacity is 16GB, and it has three PCI-X slots for plugging in devices such as extra network cards. The p615 also can be included as a component in a supercomputing cluster assembled from many smaller systems.

IBM's Power4 processor is at the heart of the company's effort to dethrone top Unix server seller Sun and to gain against No. 2 Hewlett-Packard. The Power4, which debuted in the 32-processor p690 "Regatta" in late 2001, will be succeeded next year by the more powerful Power5 with the coming 64-processor "Squadron" server.

IBM is competing not only with Sun in the market, but also with Fujitsu, the fifth-largest server maker, according to market analysis firm IDC. Fujitsu sells systems using its own Sparc V processor, which runs Sun's Solaris version of Unix. Last week, Fujitsu released two new models, the Primepower two-processor 250 and the four-processor 450.

The Primepower 250 has a starting price of $7,500.

The Fujitsu systems use 1.1GHz Sparc64 V processors, which include 1MB of on-chip high-speed cache memory and a feature called instruction retry taken from the company's mainframe line. That technology reissues a failed command without requiring the processor and software to be reset, making the error-checking process less disruptive, Fujitsu said.

Fujitsu also upgraded its eight-processor Primepower 650 and 16-processor 850 with faster 1.08GHz Sparc64 V processors, with 1.35GHz models planned in the future, the company said.