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NEC Windows server wins speed test

An NEC server with 32 of Intel's Itanium 2 6M processors and running the Windows Server 2003 takes the top spot in a widely watched performance measurement.

An NEC server with 32 of Intel's forthcoming Itanium 2 6M processors and running the Windows Server 2003 has secured the top spot in a widely watched performance measurement.

The system, an NEC Express5800/1320Xc costing $5.9 million, displaced a 128-processor Unix server from Fujitsu that has been No. 1 since August 2001 on the Transaction Processing Performance Council's TPC-C test. The NEC system is the first Windows system to achieve the top spot, and also is the least expensive of the top 10 on the TPC-C list.

But NEC's victory may not last long: Hewlett-Packard, a co-inventor and key supporter of Itanium, plans to announce its own speed results Thursday at the formal Windows Server 2003 launch in San Francisco, and sources expect it to beat NEC. In addition, IBM has been working on a new result using a forthcoming version of its 32-processor p690 Unix server with Power4 processors.

The TPC-C test, perhaps the most widely watched measurement of server performance, simulates a warehouse control system, handling tasks such as placing purchase orders and tracking inventory. NEC's system performed 514,000 transactions per minute, compared with 456,000 for the Fujitsu system.

However, the benchmark is considered imperfect because server makers can optimize their systems in ways that are impractical in the real world; Sun Microsystems refuses to submit TPC-C scores in part because it's not completely representative of actual performance.

The NEC machine uses the third-generation "Madison" version of the Itanium processor family, a chip Intel plans to release later this year. The currently shipping version, Itanium 2 "McKinley," was the basis of the 32-processor NEC server that gave Windows a major boost on the TPC-C list when it arrived last September.

The earlier NEC system helped support Microsoft's sales pitch that its software is good not only for lower-end servers but also for the "big iron" that runs corporations' most important computing jobs.

Itanium 2 6M "Madison" has 6MB of high-speed cache memory compared to 3MB for the Itanium 2 "McKinley." In addition, Itanium 2 6M will run at a clock speed of 1.5GHz compared with 1GHz for Itanium 2.

Intel has said it expects performance to increase 30 percent to 50 percent from Itanium 2 to Itanium 2 6M. NEC's newest score with the Itanium 2 6M is 19 percent better than NEC's earlier score of 433,000 transactions per minute with the Itanium 2.

NEC is top of the heap right now, but HP has aggressive plans for Itanium. It will release 64-processor Superdome systems initially, then through a technology code-named Hondo that plugs two Itanium processors into a single socket, will sell 128-processor Itanium systems.

HP supports three operating systems on its Itanium systems today--Windows, Linux and HP-UX Unix--and will add support for OpenVMS next year.