Big Blue’s New Power6 Chip Blazes Past Speed Record

IBM formally launched its Power6 microprocessor Monday, billing the new chip as the fastest ever built and saying it will enable servers to process data twice as fast while using less electricity.

The Power6 dual-core processor has a clock speed of 4.7 GHz and offers 8 megabytes of L2 cache — four times as much as the Power5 family. The chip is also one of the first widely sold that uses IBM’s 65-nanometer manufacturing process.

The chips will be available on June 8 in servers in the System p line, which run on Unix, and the System i line that runs on the i5/OS. Both systems can also operate on the Linux operating system, IBM said.

A Host of Improvements

The new chip offers a host of improvements, Big Blue said, including built-in virtualization features, power savings and faster internal bandwidth.

The chips are designed to power high-end servers that run the Unix operating system. The primary Unix server loaded with the chip will be the p570, which IBM plans to make available with a price tag starting at US$60,000.

Bill Zeitler, the senior vice president of IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, likened the Power6 launch to the first victory by the company’s supercomputer Deep Blue over a chess champion a decade ago. The chip’s fast speeds and reduced power demands will drive “unprecedented business value for our customers,” he said.

Grand Slam?

The chip boasts massive internal bandwidth of 300 gigabytes per second; enough, IBM noted, to download all 5 million songs in the iTunes music catalog in less than a minute.

In addition to the performance increases, IBM said the new Power6 offers a number of enhancements based around virtualization. For instance, the chips support a technology called “Live Partition Mobility,” which allows a server running as a virtual machine to be moved from one server box to another without shutting down the system.

The chip’s configurable bandwidth will enable end users to have the flexibility to either double computing power or get the same performance while significantly lowering power costs, the company explained.

IBM is also positioning the chip as an opportunity for customers to reduce the overall number of servers they operate by getting more performance and allowing more virtualization of each machine. Thirty of Sun’s SunFire v890 servers could be consolidated into a single rack of Power6 servers, with an annual energy savings of close to $100,000, IBM said.

In addition to doubling its own Power5 line in terms of speed, IBM said the Power6 is three times as fast as chips in the HP Superdome server.

Growing Share, Shrinking Market?

IBM has been gaining market share in the Unix server segment, growing its share of the market by some 10 points, while HP lost 5 percent market share and Sun saw its share of the market dip by 1.4 percent, according to IDC research.

Still, the overall Unix market is not growing rapidly as more enterprises embrace Linux and other alternatives. The types of enterprises that run Unix are typically major consumers of hardware and software — which IBM said will be an increasingly important part of its business in coming years.

Power Consumption

IBM has managed to continually push clock speeds and bandwidth higher on its servers, a key consideration for buyers of high-end hardware, who want to ensure their investments will be around for a while, noted Gartner analyst Ian Brown.

“Power consumption is at the top of the mind of every company with a major installation of servers,” Brown told TechNewsWorld. “Every major vendor is rolling out solutions to save power and consolidate servers.”

IBM’s direct processor business has taken some hits in recent years, most notably when Apple said it would shift its PCs away from PowerPC processors to chips made by Intel, commented Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle.

Still, IBM continues to be a major player in the chipset market, mainly through collaborative partnerships, such as those leading to it having a hand in developing the lightning-fast processors inside the PlayStation 3 gaming console, Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

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