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IBM server emphasizes upgrades

The new version of the eServer x440 lets businesses select a two- or four-processor configuration and later upgrade to eight or 16 processors.

IBM is pitching an upgrade-as-you-go server for medium-sized businesses.

The new machine, introduced this week, is a version of the company's eServer x440. The new version allows businesses to select two- or four-processor configurations and then upgrade later to eight or 16 processors.

Servers are networked computers that juggle a number of jobs from storing data for e-mail systems to conducting e-commerce and other transactions. IBM expects that cost-conscious businesses will purchase a machine that can be upgraded to do the job of several standalone servers instead of buying those extra machines later.

The new x440 will ship with two or four 2.4GHz Intel Xeon processors. It can be upgraded to Intel's Xeon MP chip, which is designed for use in servers with four or more processors. The new x440 will start at about $20,000 and will be available by the end of August, IBM said.

Although a number of companies, including Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems, offer four-, eight- and 16-processor servers, IBM claims this new variant of its x440 has an advantage because of the ability to add processors.

IBM designed the x440's chipset, which is a group of chips that essentially controls the flow of data inside the machine, to be able to handle two-, four-, eight- and 16-processor configurations.

Server makers all put an emphasis on upgradability, but in varying forms. Sun's servers, for example, can be upgraded with new versions of processors. Some of its more expensive server models can run a mixture of chips with different clock speeds. And forthcoming servers using Intel's Itanium 2 chips will upgradeable to future versions of that chip.