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IBM Cuts pSeries Tags as It Rolls Out 1.9GHz Power4+.

By Timothy Prickett Morgan

IBM will today formally announce its latest clocked up Power4+ processors while also taking the knife to prices on many existing pSeries machines with slower Power CPUs and memory cards used throughout the line

As we reported last week, IBM Corp had jacked up the clock speeds on the Power4+ processors used in the pSeries Unix server line to 1.9GHz and had used that processor in a TPC-C online transaction benchmark to try to get some airplay during Intel Developer Conference.

The faster Power4+ processor is only available in the high-end "Regatta-H" pSeries 690, which has sixteen dual-core Power4 processors comprised of four eight-core multichip modules. The circuitry, packaging, and cooling associated with this MCM allows IBM to run these Power4+ cores a little faster than it can with other Power4-based machines, which employ smaller MCMs or single-chip implementations with one or two cores activated. In lieu of faster Power4 or Power4+ processors in the remaining pSeries midrange and enterprise servers, IBM is cutting prices modestly on base systems and cutting prices on main memory a bit more steeply. Pricing is very aggressive on new high-end 128GB memory cards, which have enabled IBM to double the main memory in the pSeries 690 to 1TB and post TPC-C benchmark results above the 1 million transaction per minute mark.

IBM is offering the pSeries 690 with the 1.9GHz Power4+ processors in four different configurations, with eight, 16, 24, or 32 of the cores activated; customers who want a different number of processors than these setting can buy a base machine and then use IBM's capacity on demand to activate an additional number of processors. All base pSeries 690 machines come with a license to AIX, a rack, an I/O drawer, and two 36GB disk drives. The smallest configuration with eight 1.9GHz cores and 16GB of main memory will cost $641,738, according to Jim McGaughan, director of pSeries marketing at IBM. Prior to the price cuts announced on slower Power4+ chips, an eight core box using 1.7GHz cores and 16GB of main memory cost $601,488. So IBM is, in effect, charging 7% more money for about 12% more oomph. However, IBM has cut prices on the 1.7GHz Power4+ processors used in the pSeries 690, and that same base eight-core box now costs only $528,488, down 12%. What that means is that IBM is really charging 21% more for that extra 12% of performance. This is not uncommon in the IT business, as we all know. If you need top-end performance, you always pay top dollar.

A pSeries 690 with 32 cores running at 1.9GHz with 64GB of main memory sells for just under $2.1m, while after a 15% price cut a machine with 32 of the 1.7GHz cores now costs $1.65m. The faster Power4+ cores will start shipping on March 5, and on May 28 IBM will offer upgrades to Regatta-H customers with slower processors. IBM may be able to ship 1.9GHz Power4+ cores, but it probably does not have a lot of them, hence the slow ramp up in production.

Both AIX 5L 5.1 and 5.2 are supported on the pSeries machines with the new 1.9GHz processors with the appropriate patches. IBM is also allowing the pSeries 690 machines with the faster Power4+ cores to participate in HPC clusters using Switch Network Interface (SNI) adapters that link the servers into its "Federation" High Performance Switch for parallel clusters. The ability to use the 1.9GHz Power4+ chips in conjunction with either two-link or four-link SNI adapters will not be supported until April 30.

To help boost the performance of the high-end pSeries boxes, McGaughan said that IBM is now offering 128MB Level 3 caches that run at 633MHz and main memory cards that also run at 633MHz and which come in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB card sizes. The faster L3 cache and main memory cards are available now, excepting the 128GB cards, which will not be available until June 25. IBM is also going to start shipping two-loop and four-loop Remote I/O-2 (RIO-2) adapters cards running at 633MHz to attach I/O expansion drawers to the Regatta-H frames with enough bandwidth to balance the extra processor performance.

With Sun Microsystems Inc and Hewlett-Packard Co both two weeks ago revamping their Unix server lines with their respective dual core UltraSparc-IV and PA-8800 processors, IBM had to do something to respond to the competitive threat that these new machines present to itself and its AIX and Linux channel partners. To that end, McGaughan says that IBM has dropped main memory prices for all machines but the entry pSeries 615 by 20%. That includes the pSeries 630, pSeries 650, pSeries 670, and pSeries 690.

The pSeries 655 was not tweaked in this round of announcements, since Big Blue just rolled the 1.7GHz Power4+ chips into this line in late January. With that prior announcement, an eight-way pSeries 655 with 1.7GHz Power4+ processors, 4GB of main memory, and two 36GB disks cost $70,000, which is what IBM was charging for similarly configured machines using the 1.5GHz Power4+. At the same time, IBM dropped the price of the 1.5GHz eight-way machine by 13% to $61,910. A four-way pSeries 655 with 1.7GHz processors with 4GB and two disks that now sells for $47,625. In January, IBM also expanded the maximum main memory capacity of the pSeries 655 from 32GB to 64GB. In a sense, this configuration was pre-announced, since the price cut is consistent with those IBM announces today for other pSeries machines.

Specifically, prices on the pSeries 690 using 1.7GHz cores are down between 12.1 and 15.3%, depending on the configuration, while pSeries 690s using 1.5GHz cores are down 12 to 15.7 percent. pSeries 670 servers, which can scale to 16 cores, were dropped by 8.9% to 13.5%. Prices on the eight-way pSeries 650 were not cut by nearly as much, however, with a shaving of only 5% off the Express preconfigured AIX and Linux systems. In fact, the prices for base configurations for non-Express pSeries 650 machines using 1.2GHz or 1.45GHz Power4+ cores were actually raised by 2.2% and 2.8%, if you can believe it. This might just be margin that IBM is giving back to its channel, however. It is hard to believe that the street price for the pSeries 650 has actually gone up. pSeries 630 prices remain unchanged.
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Title Annotation:International Business Machines Corp.
Author:Morgan, Timothy Prickett
Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 24, 2004
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