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IBM to use dual-core Opteron

Big Blue will use AMD's chip in a high-performance server but isn't yet planning a general-purpose Opteron system.

SAN FRANCISCO--IBM will upgrade its Opteron-based e325 server for high-performance computing with Advanced Micro Devices' dual-core chip in 2005, the company plans to announce Thursday.

The new e326 will be available next week with current Opteron chips and with the dual-core versions in mid-2005, said Alex Yost, a director of marketing in IBM's eServer group.

Big Blue was the first major server maker to embrace Opteron, announcing its support the day AMD released the strategically important chip in 2003. Opteron processors, like rival Xeon chips from Intel that are just emerging now, have added 64-bit features that make it easier to use large amounts of memory.

However, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems have overtaken IBM in Opteron enthusiasm this year, positioning their Opteron computers for mainstream use, not just for the high-performance computing niche.

Yost argued that there isn't yet enough demand for general-purpose Opteron servers. Customers want the systems for technical applications such as financial modeling and electronics design, but the memory speed and 64-bit advantages of Opteron don't make a difference for most general-purpose applications, he said.

Dual-core chips are all the rage, particularly for servers, whose software is more likely written to take advantage of the parallelism. AMD demonstrated its dual-core Opteron last week. And at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, Intel demonstrated a Silicon Graphics server with four dual-core "Montecito" chips, a future version of Itanium, and a dual-core desktop processor.

The e326 has a starting price of $2,189, but most customers will buy more powerful configurations costing more than $4,000, Yost said. The systems can accommodate as much as 16GB of memory, have two 100MHz PCI slots and use faster memory than the e325, Yost said. They're rack-mounted computers 1.75 inches thick.

IBM assembles servers into a high-performance computing cluster called the eServer 1350 for customers who don't want to do it themselves. A version of the e1350 based on the e326 will be available in November, Yost added.

HP and Sun sell two-processor and four-processor Opteron servers at the moment. Sun has eight-processor models under development, said John Fowler, the executive vice president of Sun's Network Systems Group, in a recent interview.