IBM announces the Power6 chip

Offers double the performance of the earlier Power5+ device

IBM Monday officially announced its Power6 chip, saying that the next-generation microprocessor for its Unix and Linux systems offers double the performance of the earlier Power5+ device while consuming roughly the same amount of electricity.

But the doubling of processing speed from the 2.2GHz Power5+ to the 4.7GHz Power 6 won't be the only reason that users upgrade to the new dual-core chip, predicted Ross Mauri, general manager of IBM's System p business unit. Companies will be able to move existing workloads to Power6-based systems and cut the energy use of their servers almost in half, Mauri said.

That alone will be enough to motivate some users to upgrade, Mauri thinks. "Energy consumption is now an important factor," he said.

The Power6 will be generally available within two weeks in a new midrange server, called the System p 570, that can support up to eight physical processor sockets, for a total of 16 cores. The p 570 will run IBM's AIX version of Unix as well as Red Hat Linux and SUSE Linux, and it will be aimed at server consolidation or database and application server uses.

Mauri said that over the next year, the Power6 will be incorporated into other servers within the System p product line, including blade servers. It also will be built into IBM's System i servers, which originally were called the AS/400 and can run the company's i5/OS operating system plus AIX, Linux and Windows.

Meanwhile, the Power5+ chip, which was released in late 2005, will continue in production for the next couple of quarters, Mauri said.

According to IBM, the Power6 also includes improved virtualization functionality, including the ability to move a logical partition to a separate p 570 running in a cluster.

The trend among microprocessor makers is to focus on using multicore chips and throughput gains from techniques such as parallel processing to boost performance, instead of ratcheting up clock speeds. But with the Power6, IBM is working to keep both the multicore and clock speed avenues open, said Richard Partridge, an analyst at IT research firm Ideas International Inc. in Rye Brook, N.Y.

Partridge said IBM is benefiting from investments the company has made in its own chip fabrication facilities. "The challenges of getting a high clock speed right without excessive power consumption have stymied some of the other players," he said. But Partridge added that while IBM now will lead on performance, other server vendors will position their systems as having an appropriate match of price and performance.

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Patrick Thibodeau

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