IBM adds low-wattage x86 servers

Big Blue next week plans to announce more energy-efficient dual-processor servers using new AMD and Intel chips.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
IBM has quietly beefed up its dual-processor server line with new low-wattage processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, part of the company's effort to capitalize on the industry's growing interest in curbing electrical power consumption.

Big Blue has put Intel's new 1.6GHz and 1.86GHz 50-watt quad-core Xeon 5300 "Clovertown" processor in two rack-mounted System x servers, the 3.5-inch thick x3650 and 1.75-inch thick x3550, and in the HS21 blade server. In addition, its two-processor LS21 and four-processor LS41 blade servers now are available with new dual-core AMD Opteron chips, a 2.6GHz HE (high-efficiency) model that consumes 65 watts and a 1.8GHz EE (extreme-efficiency) model that consumes 40 watts, said Scott Tease, marketing manager for IBM's BladeCenter products.

The computing industry is struggling with booming electrical power consumption problems and resulting overheating. Consequently, computing technology companies are trying to make lemonade from lemons by revamping products to get an energy efficiency edge over competitors.

"We're really driving low-voltage through the Intel and AMD line, both with blades and rack servers," Tease said.

The company plans to announce the new systems next week, but the company already began sharing details with customers this week.

"We're really driving low-voltage through the Intel and AMD line, both with blades and rack servers."
--Scott Tease, marketing manager, IBM BladeCenter products

The systems cost more, because only the cream of the chipmakers' crop can work at full clock speeds without running too hot and consuming too much electricity, but the systems pay for themselves, he said.

For example, it costs about $240 extra to get a server with the low-voltage Xeon 5300 chips compared with the regular models, he said. But a company saves about $130 per year in power and cooling costs, assuming electricity costs 15 cents per kilowatt-hour.

"If you're running them for three years, that's not too bad a payoff," he said.

In addition, the lower-power systems can be packed more densely, letting more servers fit into a rack that has, for example, a 10-kilowatt supply limit. A single BladeCenter chassis with 14 dual-processor machines consumes about 1 kilowatt less power with the low-wattage Intel chips, he said.

The low-voltage Xeons and the Opteron HE processors run near the same speeds as their ordinary higher-wattage brethren, which consume 80 watts and 95 watts, respectively. The Opteron EE chips, however, run at a slower clock frequency--1.8GHz, compared with 2.8GHz and soon 3GHz for regular Opterons.

The EE Opteron has "amazing" performance per watt, Tease said, but he's "anxious" about the chip's reception. "The EE part is still pretty new. We don't know how well-accepted it will be," he said.

AMD has an advantage over Intel right now in memory power consumption, Tease added. AMD's DDR2 memory modules consume about 8 watts to 10 watts apiece and don't always need peak power, whereas Intel's FB-DIMM modules draw more than 15 watts full time, he said.

"The memory in an Intel system could be consuming 50 watts, whereas in an AMD system, it could be 20 watts," Tease said. "On the flip side, you have great performance" with Intel's FB-DIMM.

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