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IBM furthers server push with new machine

Intel won't officially release its "Foster" chip for multiprocessor servers until next year, but IBM has started shipping the first machine that uses it.

Intel won't officially release its "Foster" chip for multiprocessor servers until next year, but on Tuesday IBM started shipping the first machine that uses it.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said it has begun preliminary shipments of its x360 e-server, which combines a number of the company's mainframe technologies with less-expensive Intel processors in a strategy Big Blue calls its X Architecture.

The server comes amid a revival for IBM in corporate computing. Three years ago, the company was losing ground to Sun Microsystems in the server market it helped create. To right itself, IBM reorganized its product lines and server divisions to cut down on duplication and internal competition.

When the downturn came, IBM rose. The company took more than 30 percent of revenue generated by the server market in the third quarter of 2001, a 7 percent increase from its market position in the same period a year ago, according to researcher Dataquest. By contrast, nearly all other major manufacturers saw their portion of the market remain flat or decline and saw total revenue shrink.

Two key technologies inside the x360 are IBM's "Summit" chipset and the upcoming Xeon chip from Intel code-named Foster. Summit, formally called the XA-32, is designed to provide IBM systems with performance advantages at a relatively low cost.

For example, Summit comes with an integrated cache of memory, a first for chipsets. A memory cache on a chipset, which shuttles data to and from the processor, will decrease the time it takes to access oft-needed data, according to IBM.

In addition, the chipset contains several self-healing capabilities. Through "mirroring memory," for instance, the chipset can steer data away from one memory bank toward another in the event the first bank is on the fritz.

The chipset will also work with both regular 32-bit Intel processors and, with a few modifications, the upcoming 64-bit McKinley chip. Because the chipset works with both chips, IBM's independent development costs are dropped. Summit-based servers will be capable of managing 16 processors, and a 32-processor successor is on the way.

Foster, meanwhile, is Intel's first server-specific chip based on the Pentium 4 architecture. The chip will run at 1.5GHz and 1.6GHz, according to sources, and contain hyper-threading, a new technology that can increase performance up to 30 percent by using internal computing elements of the chip more efficiently.

Unlike chips used in desktops, server chips come out relatively infrequently and run at lower speeds. While desktop chips currently top out at 2GHz, Intel chips for four-processor servers stop at 900MHz. The company's desktop lines began incorporating the Pentium 4 design more than a year ago.

A follow-on to Foster that runs at 2GHz--code-named Gallatin--will arrive later in 2002, according to Intel.