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IBM boosts speeds of Intel server

Big Blue revamps its most powerful Intel server with new chips, boosting performance by about 20 percent to 30 percent.

IBM has revamped its most powerful Intel server with new chips, boosting performance by about 20 percent to 30 percent.

The new NUMA-Q E410 can accommodate as many as 64 Pentium III Xeon chips, the same number as previous designs. The new model benefits not only from Intel's latest 700-MHz models with built-in high-speed cache memory but also from improved supporting chips that enable information to be transferred faster within the computer, said Steve Fry, manager of NUMA-Q marketing at IBM.

IBM acquired the NUMA-Q design when it bought Sequent in 1999. NUMA, which stands for "non-uniform memory access," refers to a particular way of designing computers stuffed with dozens or even hundreds of processors. In a NUMA system, the memory is split into several sections rather than being located in one large central area; the hard part is writing an operating system that can adjust between the different response times of memory that's close to a processor and memory that's distant.

SGI and EMC also build NUMA designs, but IBM sees the main competition for its NUMA-Q machines to be the more powerful Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, Fry said. A basic entry-level system costs about $73,000, but more typical configurations will cost closer to $300,000, and one with all 64 processors and lots of software costs about $4 million.

Though the design comes from outside IBM, Big Blue is working to make NUMA-Q its own. One part of that effort is to ensure Linux software will run on it. However, IBM hasn't yet decided whether it will tweak Linux itself to get it to run on the NUMA systems or will instead create different software that allows NUMA's current Dynix/PTX version of Unix to run Linux programs.

The latter approach would be the fastest way to ensure Linux software will run on the NUMA-Q machines, a key part of IBM's plan to have all its four server lines able to run Linux software.

Getting an operating system to run on a NUMA system is no mean feat. SGI is working on that very project with its own version of Linux.

IBM plans to release a new NUMA-Q server in the first quarter of 2001 that uses as many as 16 Itanium processors, Fry said.

Also today, IBM introduced a new low-end two-processor Intel server, the Netfinity 3500 M20, said Jay Bretzmann, manager of Netfinity's strategy. Starting prices are $1,830.