Dell server draws on Madison

The computer maker returns to 64-bit computing waters with a rack-mount server based on Intel's upcoming "Madison" processor, a higher-performance version of the Itanium 2.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
Dell Computer is wading back into 64-bit computing waters with a new rack-mount server.

The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Wednesday said it would begin selling the PowerEdge 3250, a server based on the upcoming higher-performance "Madison" version of Intel's 64-bit Itanium 2 processor.

Dell at one time made a 64-bit server based on the first Itanium, but it chose to discontinue that product and skip to its successor, the "McKinley" chip, which became the first Itanium 2. The new PowerEdge 3250, first shown last April, is designed to use the Madison Itanium 2 in a 3-inch-high, rack-mount server designed for a specific application in high-performance computing clusters, the company said.

Clusters, which tie together large numbers of standard servers to harness their collective processing power, are becoming increasingly popular with large corporations and educational institutions because of their relatively low cost and high performance. Though special purpose-built supercomputers are still considered to be superior for some tasks, such as predicting the weather, clusters can now handle many tasks that were reserved for supercomputers just a few years ago.

Clusters also play to Dell's goals of selling large numbers of servers. Because they string together hundreds--or potentially thousands--of servers in a single sale, the computer maker has put great emphasis on the cluster program. Clusters have also helped fuel growth by chipmaker Intel in the high-performance and scientific computing market.

While Dell did not announce pricing or an exact ship date, the new PowerEdge 3250 is expected to come in at the high end of the company's server products and related cluster products.

The company is expected to tout the advantages of 64-bit Itanium servers over their 32-bit Intel Xeon brethren--benefits such as the ability to handle more physical memory and to perform floating-point calculations with more aplomb--for markets such as those that use financial models, genomic research or even movie special effects.

IMAGE TEXT HERE The Itanium 2 was chosen for the PowerEdge 3250 specifically for its number-crunching ability and its ability to support much more RAM than a Xeon chip, Dell executives said during a conference call.

The new machine will be based on two Itanium 2 processors and will be able to use up to 16GB of RAM and 292GB of hard-drive storage, Dell said. The company will offer the system with Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition or with Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating systems.

The system will come in clusters of 8, 16, 32, 64 or 128 single servers, or nodes, based on Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The new PowerEdge 3250 will complement, but not replace, Dell's existing wide range of 32-bit Xeon processor server models, which will be sold alongside the new machine.

Next week, Intel is expected to officially launch the new Madison chip at speeds of at least 1.3GHz. The chipmaker will come out with a version of Madison specially designed for dual-processor systems, said Tom Gibbs, director of industry marketing at Intel, in a recent interview.

Dell isn't the only company interested in 64-bit clusters. Earlier this week, IBM revealed its design for a rack-mount server based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, a rival to the new Itanium 2 chips.

Computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard are also likely to offer the new Madison processor as well.