IBM doubles down on server memory

Big Blue begins selling super-thin "blade" servers with technology that lets 2GB of data squeeze into 1GB of memory. Other computer makers could soon benefit as well.

Stephen Shankland
Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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IBM has begun selling servers with technology that lets 2GB of data squeeze into 1GB of memory.

And through a deal IBM signed with Broadcom subsidiary ServerWorks in 2000, the memory-doubling technology will be available for use with other companies' Intel-based servers as well. ServerWorks sells chipsets--the key chips that connect CPUs to memory and other parts of the computer--and its products are used by IBM, Dell Computer, Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard.

The technology, called Memory Expansion Technology (MXT), doubles the effective memory by using a compression scheme. Compression ordinarily slows performance, as the information is squeezed and then expanded again. But IBM and ServerWorks have managed to get around the problem by using a special 32MB patch of high-speed "cache" memory, which stores uncompressed data.

This results in cheaper memory capacity, or a server that can be made more compact because MXT doesn't take up as much space or or use as much electrical current.

The issues of size and electrical power are important for super-thin "blade" servers just now coming to market. The first IBM server to use the technology will be IBM's x330, a system that with two Intel CPUs measures 1.75 inches thick.

As an added bonus, the high-speed memory increases performance by as much as 49 percent for server tasks that use memory frequently, IBM said.

IBM's competitors don't yet have the technology, but ServerWorks sells its chipsets to all of Big Blue's biggest competitors, including HP, Compaq and Dell.