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IBM server to trickle out in December

The company's "Summit" servers will start shipping in early December, Big Blue plans to announce Monday. But will the Intel-based systems stack up to IBM's other product lines?

IBM will begin preliminary shipments of its first "Summit" servers in early December, the company plans to announce Monday, marking a key moment in Big Blue's effort to make systems based on Intel chips as serious as its other product lines.

IBM has said its Summit systems are ready to go and will be generally available as soon as Intel launches its multiprocessor-capable Xeon chip, code-named Foster MP and due in the first quarter of 2002. But early shipments of the first Summit servers will begin in early December, the company plans to announce.

The first Summit machine will be called the x360, part of the xSeries line of Intel-based servers, with Xeon chips running at 1.5GHz or 1.6GHz. The first systems will be rack-mountable, four-processor models. A "scalability port" and accompanying interconnecting cables will let customers group up to four systems into an eight-, 12- or 16-processor system.

The systems will be generally available in early December but in limited quantities, IBM said. Pricing information was not available.

The Summit chip for the server, formally called the XA-32 after the X Architecture initiative that spawned it, is the first chipset for Intel servers IBM has released. The chipset is a crucial chip that connects a computer's processor with other processors and with memory and input-output systems.

Summit began as the XA-64 that will arrive when Intel ships the second generation of its high-end 64-bit Itanium chip line, code-named McKinley and expected in the first half of 2002. With the slipping Itanium schedules, though, IBM decided to add a 32-bit version for Intel's more common Xeon chips, a souped-up relative of its mainstream Pentium models.

To squeeze four CPUs into a rack-mounted chassis 5.25 inches tall, IBM had to be creative in finding a way to keep the CPUs from overheating. Each chip sports a large water-cooled heat-radiation system, in which the chip's heat evaporates water that rises within a sealed mechanism and re-condenses into a liquid. It's similar to the way sweat cools a person, except that the system is sealed so water doesn't need to be replenished.

The x360 has a 400MHz front-side bus, the data pathway that joins the chip to memory. It also has "remote I/O," which allows PCI cards to be plugged into a separate cabinet, alleviating the space constraints that usually limit the communication abilities of rack-mounted servers.