HP Announces High-End 'Arches' Chipset for Integrities
Published: March 20, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
There is no doubt that Hewlett-Packard was hoping to make a big splash with its third generation "Arches" sx2000 chipset for Itanium servers and launch the Integrity servers based on the dual-core "Montecito" Itanium processors as a single package. But with the Montecitos running late, and HP needing to keep competitive, the company today launched the Arches chipset and two relatively large Integrity servers and high-end Superdomes based on it without the Montecito chips.
Lucky for HP that the current single-core "Madison" 64-bit Itanium processors are plug compatible with the dual-core Montecitos. Well, that's not really luck, but design. And it is by the design of Intel, HP, and all of the other Itanium partners that the future dual-core "Montvale" Itanium processors, which will follow the Montecito to market in 2007, will also plug into the same slots. The Montvale chips, you will remember, were originally planned to be a 3 GHz processor using a 65 nanometer process and were pulled back to a 90 nanometer process last fall when the Montecitos were pushed out to mid-2006, thereby dropping Montvale clock speeds to around 2 GHz. It is hard to say what HP thinks about all of that, particularly in a high-end server market that is often focused on raw performance. The several delays in the Itanium chips over the years have given HP all kinds of headaches, and to its credit, it has handled them as best as any company could have. In fact, the original "Yosemite" Superdome chipset and the "Pinnacles" sx1000 chipset used in the Integrity lines were designed so they could bend to the availability of PA-RISC and Itanium processors.
But enough history. The important thing is that HP has decided to stop waiting for Montecito--perhaps Intel should have code-named the chip "Godot"?--and is announcing new machines that have the Arches chipset and which offer performance benefits even using the single-core Madison chips, which have about half the performance of the dual-core Montecitos.
According to Manuel Martull, marketing manager for HP's Business Critical Systems division within its Enterprise Storage and Servers group, the Arches chipset can provide up to a 30 percent performance increase compared machines using the current Pinnacles chipset. The reason why is that Arches chipset supports up to four times the main memory capacity, using 4 GB DDR2 memory modules, than the Pinnacles chipset, which used 1 GB modules. For instance, in the current Superdome high-end server using the Pinnacles chipset, a maximum of 1 TB of main memory is supported on the machine, but with the delivery of 4 GB memory modules in the middle of this year--about the same time as the Montecito chips--the Superdomes using the Arches chipset will support 4 TB of main memory, and next year the machines will support 8 TB. This is a lot of main memory. The Arches chipset, explains Martull, also has a new crossbar switch that has a larger bus size and higher speeds that yield twice the memory bandwidth as the Pinnacles chipset could deliver. The chipset also delivers about 25 percent lower memory latency, too, which is important for a lot of online workloads.
When you add it up, the chipset changes are roughly equivalent to what used to be a processor upgrade in the old days when we used to just crank the clock on the processor and add cache memory to the chips. And, perhaps more importantly, when HP moves to the Montecito chips in the Pinnacles servers, it will be able to get more than the factor of two performance boost that Intel is advertising in the jump from 1.6 GHz/9 MB cache Madisons to the dual-core 1.6 GHz/24 MB cache Montecitos. That is raw CPU performance, and the improvements in the Arches chipset will be added to this.
The Arches chipset also has other features to improve performance and reliability. The crossbar at the heart of the chipset is made of triple-redundant fabrics that can ride through failures better and provide high bandwidth, too. The chipset supports double chip sparing, which keeps large blocks of memory from bringing down machines when their data gets corrupted--by keeping it from getting corrupted in the first place. The Arches chipset also has a replicated system clock and hot-pluggable redundant voltage regulators so in the unlikely event that one of these components fails in the field, it cannot take the Integrity system down.
The Integrity machines, of course, run HP-UX, Linux, Windows, and OpenVMS. HP will begin shipping two models of Integrity machines in April and has already begun shipments of Arches-based Superdome machines (which have 16, 32, or 64 sockets crammed with Itanium processors). Only HP-UX 11i v2 and Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition and Datacenter Edition have been certified on the Arches machines thus far; Linux and OpenVMS will certainly follow shortly.
HP did not supply the feeds and speeds and pricing for the updated Superdomes as we went to press, but it did give out details for two smaller Integrity machines that are based on the Arches chipset. The rx7640 server has one or two four-socket cell boards and supports up to 64 GB of main memory using 2 GB memory DIMMs. A base configuration of this machine with two Madison 9MB Itaniums, 4 GB of main memory, a 35 GB disk, and a DVD drive costs $43,500. The other machine is the rx8640, which has from one to four cell boards, each with four Itanium processor sockets, and up to 128 GB of main memory. With the same two Madison processors, 4 GB of memory, 36 GB disk, and DVD drive, the rx8640 costs $76,500.