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IBM launches Power5+ chip

Big Blue unveiled the second generation of its Power5 chip line Tuesday, the Power5+ for the pSeries, and is hoping the technology will serve as a knockout blow to Sun's Unix presence.

IBM rolled out the second generation of its successful Power5 chip, Power5+ on Tuesday, along with five new pSeries boxes -- including a quad-core model -- and a blade server powered by the new technology.

Big Blue is touting the new processor as a potential knockout blow to Sun's declining presence in the Unix market. The new offerings based on the Power5+ are highlighted by the p5 550 Q, an up to 8-way server featuring what IBM said is the industry's first multithreaded quad-core module for database applications.

IBM's plan is to deploy the Power5+ on the lower-end pSeries, which is aimed at small to midsized business [SMB] customers, and move the technology up the Big Blue food chain in the coming months. IBM refused to comment on if it plans to release the new chip on higher-end systems such as the iSeries.

Charles King, principal analyst for Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, doesn't consider the quad-core offering a game changing technology. But he does think it shows IBM's commitment to furthering the Power platform.

"It's a natural evolution. It takes the multi-core work they started in the 1990s and puts a really nice cap on it," King said.

The Power5+ uses 90-nanometer technology, as opposed to the 130-nanometer-based Power5, and that smaller die size has allowed Big Blue to cram more into the same footprint while reducing power consumption and increasing energy efficiency. Power5+ holds two processors, a high-bandwidth system switch, a large memory cache and an I/O interface.

According to Jeff Howard, program director for pSeries product marketing, boxes powered by this latest version of the Power line offer a significant advantage over comparable Sun servers in the all-important "price/performance" game, which vendors have been harping on lately as the best measurement of a chip's value.

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Howard said in benchmark testing, the new p550Q server scored 28% better than the comparable Sun v890 in price/performance ratio -- meaning that while the v890 costs $8.34 per user, a figure derived by dividing the price of the server by the number of users it can support, the Power5+-based p550 will be under $6 per user.

Sun was once the big dog in the Unix game, and in fact led all vendors in Unix market share for the last seven years. But an IDC report released in late August said IBM had taken over the top spot with 31% in Q2 2005, followed by Hewlett-Packard with 30%.

Sun, which was third, at 29.5% market share, responded by releasing the UltraSparc IV+ chip last month. UltraSparc IV+ is a Unix processor that features twice the performance capabilities as the UltraSparc IV, within the same power envelope and footprint and at half the power usage -- without a price hike.

IBM hopes that the Power5+ will minimize UltraSparc IV+'s effect on the market, and extend Sun's downward slope, however slight it's been.

"We're already doing a good job of knocking Sun out. We're No. 1 in market share," Howard said. "With this announcement, we're going after Sun on the lower end, which has always been the strongest part of the product line for them."

IBM also released a Power5+-based p5 550, and p5 520, which Big Blue said feature a 15% performance boost from the Power5-based models. IBM is also rolling out the p5 505, the first product in the Power5 line built in a 1U package for space constrained infrastructure and high-performance computing applications, and the p5 575, which is scalable up to 16-way.

The new IntelliStation Power 285 is the Power5+-based blade offering. IBM is also releasing a new Integrated Virtualization Manager (IVM), a browser-based, single-system virtualization management tool without a hardware management component. .

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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