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Power5 to quadruple server brawn

Big Blue fires up a computer running IBM's forthcoming Power5 processor, a key milestone for the company's future plans to pressure Sun and Hewlett-Packard in the Unix server market.

IBM has fired up a computer running IBM's forthcoming Power5 processor, a top IBM executive said Monday, predicting that systems with the new chip will have four times the performance than those using the current Power4.

Getting a system to run is a key milestone for the company's future plans to pressure Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard in the Unix server market.

IBM's Power5 processor is the single most important component in IBM's years-long struggle to establish a stronger position in the Unix server market. About $21 billion worth of Unix servers were sold in 2001, and Sun Microsystems maintains the top share despite intense pressure from IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Bill Zeitler, head of IBM's server group, said Monday that Big Blue had booted up a computer running the Power5 processor three weeks ago. Zeitler made the announcement during a speech at IBM PartnerWorld, a convention in New Orleans for IBM business partners and customers.

On business computing tasks, the Power5 will be able to perform four times the work of the existing Power4 processor, Zeitler said. IBM introduced the first Power4 systems in late 2001.

The Power5 machine was running only deep-level machine language programs, an IBM spokesman said, but Big Blue expects to run Linux and AIX--its version of Unix--on the machine within the next 30 days.

The Power5 processor will be the heart of a new 64-processor system expected in 2004. That machine had been code-named Armada, but now goes under the name Squadron.

IBM first began disclosing details of the Power5 last April. Through a technology called Fast Path, the processor will be able to take over many tasks currently run by software, including networking, virtual memory and message passing among different computers.

Power5 also has better error detection and correction than its predecessor. It will be able to run more operating systems simultaneously in separate "partitions." And unlike Power4, Power5 will be designed not only for high-end servers but also for lower-end systems.

The processor will be used in a nuclear weapons simulation supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. That machine, called ASCI Purple, is slated to use 12,544 Power5 chips.