Fast IBM Power6 chip enters slowing Unix market

New chip runs at double the speed of the Power5 line while using the same amount of power

Facing a slowing Unix market, IBM released its Power6 processor on Monday, its fastest chip yet for high-end servers. The chip runs at double the speed of its Power5 line, but uses the same amount of power.

The company also launched a server based on the chip, the System p 570, which will be available in configurations with two to 16 cores. It employs new virtualization technologies to reduce power consumption while keeping performance up. The chip and server will be available in about two weeks, IBM officials said.

Sales of pricier Unix servers are slowing as machines running Windows and Linux OSes on high-end x86 architecture processors are increasingly capable of handling high-demand applications. Intel released its dual-core Woodcrest and quad-core Clovertown Xeon processors last year, while Advanced Micro Devices is expected to release its quad-core Opteron processor, called Barcelona, later this year.

With the release of Power6, IBM is taking aim at competitors in the Unix market including Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems.

The Power6 is a dual-core processor that runs at 4.7GHz. Those two cores use symmetric multithreading (SMT) technology that allows them to appear as four cores, each of which can execute instruction threads. It means that heavy processing, such that involved in airplane design or automotive crash simulations, can occur much faster.

IBM claims the Power6 chip is three times faster than the Itanium processor that HP uses in its Superdome servers and has a bandwidth 30 times greater, at 300GBps.

To accompany the new processor, IBM also announced the beta release of virtualization technology, supported by Power6 and the p 570, that allows the live transfer of virtualized partitions and workloads to other servers. This process is called live partition and application mobility. General availability is scheduled for later in the year, IBM said.

The latest version of IBM's Unix OS, AIX 6, will come in November, and will include features such as encryption of the file system, the ability to move workloads during maintenance and a new graphical user interface and console. A beta version will be available for download in July, IBM said.

Power6 is the first processor capable of doing decimal floating point arithmetic in its hardware rather than in software, IBM said. That will allow software compiled for the processor to perform faster processing of intensive tax, financial and enterprise resource planning applications.

IBM officials stressed Power6's "green" credentials around power consumption. Other improvements in Power6's design include the separation of circuits that can't support low voltages, allowing power to be reduced on other circuits in the rest of the chip.

"The crisis data center managers are facing ... is around energy, space and efficiency," said Bill Zeitler, senior vice president for IBM's systems and technology group.

The chip's bandwidth can also be adjusted according to whether more performance or lower power consumption is needed. Processor clocks can be turned off when not used, and power can be shut off to parts of the memory when its not used.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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