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HP set to debut last in-house chip

Company is prepping to launch its first Unix servers with the last member of its PA-RISC chip family.

Hewlett-Packard is set to debut as soon as next week its first Unix servers with the last member of the company's PA-RISC processor family, a lineage that's being supplanted by Intel's Itanium.

The company is likely to announce June 1 that the PA-8900 processor has arrived in the HP 9000 line of Unix servers, sources familiar with the plan said. The chip is expected to run at speeds of 800MHz, 1GHz and 1.1GHz, according to one source.

HP declined to comment for this story. But one HP Web page about its top-end Superdome server said the PA-8900 will be launched May 30.

The PA-8900--like the Alpha EV7z introduced last year--is the final member of an HP chip family the company is phasing out as part of a plan to simplify its high-end server products with Itanium. HP also is expected to begin bringing its NonStop line to Itanium next week. A simpler product line and the resulting expense reductions are important to HP's efforts to dramatically cut expenses.

Itanium is a solid processor, but it's not clear whether it will achieve the industry-standard status Intel would like for it. Fujitsu, NEC, Unisys and Silicon Graphics design their own Itanium servers, but HP's top-tier server rivals prefer machines with their own processors--Sun Microsystems with UltraSparc and IBM with Power.

"The questions around Itanium are not whether it's a fast chip--it is--and whether HP will be able to migrate its customers to it--for the most part, they will--but whether this is ever going to become a widespread chip outside of HP," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. And because moving from PA-RISC to Itanium requires new software as well as hardware, IBM and Sun have been trying to lure away HP Unix customers that already are facing a significant transition.

The PA-RISC-based HP 9000 line can run the HP-UX version of Unix, but the Itanium-based Integrity line can run Windows and Linux operating systems as well.

The PA-8900 is expected to be used across the full line of HP 9000 servers. The rp3410-2, with dual processors, is expected to come with 800MHz PA-8900 processors. The rp3440-4 and rp4440-8, with four and eight processors respectively, will be available with 800MHz or 1GHz PA-8900s, according to a source familiar with HP's plans.

Higher up the pecking order, the rp7420-16 and 8420-32 will be available with 1GHz or 1.1GHz PA-8900 processors. The Superdome will be available with the 1.1GHz chips.

One difference between the processors is the amount of high-speed cache memory included. PA-8900 processor modules use 64MB, double that of the PA-8800 generation.

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