Server Specs: The week in chips

IBM previews Power6, launches first cell chip servers. Intel activates virtualization technology. AMD offers I/O virtualization, claims all chips will be virtualized by mid-2006.

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IBM to boost clock speed, launch Power6 in 12-18 months
At the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco this week, IBM execs offered a glimpse into the future of its Power chips. Power6, tentatively scheduled for launch in the next 12 to 18 months, will form the base of IBM's iSeries, pSeries and even zSeries servers.

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According to reports from the conference, IBM claims it is able to double the clock speed performance with this next generation of chips without taking a hit on high heat and energy costs. IBM hasn't offered many details on how it plans to do this, but it seems odd to industry watchers who've noticed many chip vendors moving away from cranking up clock speed in recent months.

Power.org grows
The recent Power news comes on the heels of Freescale Semiconductor's recent addition to IBM's Power.org community, a group of companies that build and design on IBM's Power platform. Freescale, a spin off of Motorola, has agreed to help develop a common instruction set and to bring the chip into new markets. The company joins energy efficiency specialists PA Semi and others in an agreement to market the Power architecture. The event was a public relations turnaround for IBM who had lost the Apple PC business on the Power chips last year. The company claims losing Apple worked out for the best because it can now focus on developing Power without having to worry about a lone PC customer.

First server offering of IBM Cell chips
Big blue also rolled out the first servers based on its new Cell chips. At an event in New York yesterday, IBM announced it would begin offering blade servers using the cell chips. Previously only used in gaming consoles, the high performance chips are geared toward processing graphics and number crunching. IBM is focusing on the high performance computing field with this launch and if the machines meet expectations IBM expects it to break into digital animation, medical imaging, aerospace and defense.

Intel activates virtualization capabilities
Intel this week turned on its virtualization technology. The company shipped a BIOS update for its Xeon chips that will enhance virtualization on servers with four or more CPUs. The feature has been built into the chips since last year, but the features haven't been accessible. Virtualization software companies are lined up to take advantage of the new enhancement which reduces CPU overhead on virtualization. VMWare's new free software will support Intel's virtualization technology, as will Microsoft's forthcoming Virtual Server 2005 and Xen 3.0.

AMD details I/O virtualization
Advanced Micro Devices released its I/O virtualization technology specification and announced all of its chips would ship with CPU virtualization technology by mid-2006. According to Margaret Lewis, director of commercial solutions at AMD, I/O virtualization will allow printers and other hardware connected to virtual machines (VMs) to become more transparent. For example, one physical server might house four VMs and each of those might be assigned to a different printer. I/O virtualization would allow VM interaction with attached devices with less processing overhead.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Matt Stansberry, News Editor

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