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New chip speeds HP Unix servers

Hewlett-Packard is speeding up its top-end Superdome Unix server with a faster processor, ensuring further spicy competition with IBM and Sun Microsystems

Hewlett-Packard will speed up its top-end Superdome Unix server with a faster processor, ensuring further spicy competition with IBM and Sun Microsystems.

The 64-processor Superdome server is on the vanguard of HP's effort to steal market share from Sun and stave off the growth of IBM in the Unix server market. It has used HP's PA-RISC 8700 processors running at 750MHz, but a new model now shipping is equipped with 875MHz 8700+ processors, HP will announce Monday.

HP boasts that the new system has broken some performance records and will break more, including the TPC-C test from the Transaction Performance Council that measures how well a server handles reading and writing database information. HP, in third place, is sensitive to the test because one of its employees allegedly sabotaged the test.

The Unix server market is the single largest segment of the server market, with systems that not only are powerful enough for jobs such as tracking corporate inventory but also that are cheaper to run than mainframes. However, the Unix server market shrank 18.7 percent from $25.3 billion in 2000 to $20.6 billion in 2001, according to analyst firm Gartner.

Sun is the leader in the Unix server market, though HP leads in the midrange segment where systems cost between $100,000 and $1 million. Sun has been working to plug its midrange gaps, introducing its Sun Fire 12k "Starkitty" system in April.

HP said the new Superdome models top the SpecJBB2000 test of performance running Java server programs with a score of 594,000 operations per second. IBM's p690 scored 339,000, and Sun's Sun Fire 15K scored 433,000, though an unconventionally configured 15K with more processors and less input-output capacity scored 602,000.

Superdome also can accommodate Intel's Itanium family of processors, which HP developed before handing off to Intel to commercialize. In 2001, HP had planned to release Itanium Superdomes in the second half of 2002, but pushed back the Itanium models to early 2003.

Two more generations of PA-RISC are still in the works as well. The 8800, which will squeeze two processors onto a single slice of silicon, will arrive in 2003 and the 8900 in 2004, after which all new models will use Itanium processors. HP will sell PA-RISC systems through 2006 and support them through 2011.

HP's Superdome servers figure prominently on the Top 500 list of supercomputers, though not in the upper ranks. The supercomputing systems typically consist of several Superdomes joined in a configuration called "Hyperplex" that uses a high-speed switch from Myricom.