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IBM releases 16-chip Intel servers

Big Blue has begun shipping 16-processor x440 servers, its highest-end mainstream machines using Intel chips, the company plans to announce Wednesday.

IBM has begun shipping 16-processor x440 servers, its highest-end mainstream machines using Intel chips, the company plans to announce Wednesday.

The system consists of two eight-processor, rack-mounted systems that are 7 inches tall and connected with high-speed cables. It's the current flag-bearer for IBM's sustained effort to build ever more powerful Intel servers. The system uses the first version of Intel's Xeon MP processor, code-named Foster MP.

An x440 with 16 processors and 8GB of memory costs $81,000, said Deep Advani, vice president of IBM's xSeries servers.

The price impressed Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice, who said that up until recently that much money would get a customer only an eight-processor server.

"I think it's the killer commodity system," he said. The x440 has a "dramatically lower price than any of the RISC alternatives," which are more-customized machines from companies such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM itself.

For example, Sun's eight-processor V880 with 16GB of memory costs $100,000. That system, however, uses 64-bit processors that more gracefully handle large amounts of memory.

Intel's Itanium processor deals better with memory constraints. IBM plans to release an Itanium version of the x440 with four processors in early 2003, executives have said. Later in the year will come a 16-processor Itanium version and a 32-processor Xeon version.

The 16-processor x440's usefulness is limited by the comparative scarcity of software that runs well on high-end Intel servers, Eunice said. Although Microsoft's Windows operating system is getting better at taking full advantage of all the chips, higher-level software such as Exchange still needs work, he said.

Linux support will arrive later on the 16-processor x440, Advani said. "Linux right now scales pretty well to eight-way servers, and as it starts to scale beyond that we'll focus on that as well," he said.

Beginning early in the first quarter, IBM will support the newer Gallatin model of Xeon, which has more high-speed cache memory and therefore better performance, Advani said.

For a time, IBM sold high-end Intel servers inherited from its 1999 acquisition of Sequent, including a fleeting few months with a 64-processor system on the market. IBM discontinued that line in December 2001, but some of the Sequent technology lives on in IBM's Enterprise X Architecture chips that connect all the x440's processors to one other and to the server's memory banks.