Small biz first stop for Dell's dual-core server

Dell is to start global shipments of its first dual-core server Monday. The PowerEdge SC430, an Intel-based machine, is aimed at small businesses. However, selling customers on the benefits of dual-core computing may initially prove something of an educational challenge, a company executive admitted.

Dual-core computing is the placing together of two CPUs (central processing units) on a single piece of silicon as a way to both cut costs and lower thermal emissions. Since processor-intensive tasks can be handled separately, dual-core chips can also help improve the performance of multithreaded applications. In some cases, using dual-core processors could boost application performance by between 10 percent to 42 percent, according to Tim Golden, Dell's director of PowerEdge server marketing.

Dual-core processors are starting to appear in desktops and servers from major players Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems, with the chips coming either from Intel or its arch rival Advanced Micro Devices.

Dell's PowerEdge SC430 will come in a variety of system configurations including those based on a 3.0GHz or 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D dual-core processor, Golden said. The server will also be available in several single-core configurations featuring a 2.53GHz Intel Socket-T Celeron chip or a 2.8GHz or 3.0GHz Intel P4 Prescott CPU. The PowerEdge SC430 will come with up to 4G bytes of DDR-2 SDRAM (double data rate two synchronous dynamic RAM) and will support Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 operating system and Linux operating systems from Red Hat and Novell's Suse. Pricing for the server starts at US$499.

Dell is positioning the PowerEdge SC430 as an affordable and versatile small business server, Golden said, for use primarily in file-and-print environments.

Educating customers about the new dual-core technology may take time, Golden said. "It's yet another metric for consumers to consider," he said, pointing out that neither Intel or Dell is creating a sub-brand for dual-core systems. "As an industry, we have our work cut out for us. Users need to understand the cases where they won't benefit [from using dual-core systems]. If customers aren't running multithreaded applications, it's not worth moving to dual core."

From a first glance at processing speed, dual-core computers may appear slower than their single-core peers. "When you buy a new PC, the first thing you look at is the gigahertz speed," said Joe Clabby, vice president of servers and storage at analyst Summit Strategies Inc. "It's going to be hard to break that mind-set until people start seeing the benchmarks and begin to understand the performance benefits of dual cores."

John Humphreys, research manager for IDC's enterprise computing group, sees the issue as a short term problem until customers themselves start testing and evaluating the likely performance gains provided by dual-core machines.

"We will be refreshing all our product line to dual core and subsequently to multi core," Dell's Golden said. But he doesn't expect dual-core processors to completely replace single-core chips any time soon.

Analyst Clabby predicts strong growth for dual-core computing. "When I talked to Intel in early May, they said they expect in 2006 that up to 70 percent of their shipments will be dual core," he said. IDC's Humphreys points out that there's still a lot of work to be done on updating some applications so they can take advantage of dual-core and multicore processors. The migration toward dual core and away from single core won't be like flicking a light switch, he said.

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