OS/400 Edition
Volume 11, Number 47 -- November 11, 2002

IBM Launches New Eight-Way Regatta with Power4+

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Good things often come in smaller packages, and that is certainly the case with the new pSeries 650 "Regatta-Mi" server, which IBM will announce this week. The pSeries 650 is an eight-way server based on the Power4+ chip, which is a rev on the Power4 processor used in the iSeries Model 890 and in the pSeries 630, 670, and 690 machines. Sources at IBM say the new Power4+ chip is a lot cheaper to make than the Power4, and Big Blue is passing those savings on to pSeries customers with aggressive pricing on the pSeries 650.

The pSeries 650, IBM says, offers the best bang for the buck in the entire pSeries Regatta line of machines, and it is the first volley in a war that IBM is making with Unix server rivals Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. IBM is gauging the pSeries 650 against Sun's midframe Sun Fire 3800 and Sun Fire V880. The former is the high-end midrange box, with advanced features such as domain partitions, while the latter has some advanced features stripped out to sell against eight-way Intel boxes. IBM says that the pSeries 650 is comparable in price to the Sun Fire V880 and is roughly half the cost of the Sun Fire 3800. The pSeries 650 supports up to eight dynamic logical partitions and can run AIX, Linux, or both at the same time.

The pSeries 650 fits in an 8U form factor and is a rack-mounted machine. It supports up to 64 GB of main memory and has four internal hot-swap disks and seven PCI-X peripheral slots. IBM is expected to announce an even more compact server called the pSeries 655, aimed primarily at supercomputer clients.

One of the things that IBM's customers and competitors are going to notice almost immediately is that the Power4+ processor running at 1.45 GHz only offers customers a 25 to 40 percent performance boost for OLTP and similar commercial workloads, compared with the eight-way pSeries 660 Model 6M1, which uses a 750 MHz S-Star processor with 8 MB of L2 cache. The S-Star and previous 64-bit PowerPC chips (Apache, Northstar, Pulsar, and I-Star) were tuned for commercial applications and had big L2 caches, compared with the Power4 and Power4+ chips, which were tuned for high-performance and technical computing workloads. The Power4 and Power4+ chips, and the Regatta servers they are designed to run in, have a very different architecture from the Star processors and the 12-way Raven and 24-way Condor server chassis. The Condor box was out of bandwidth supporting 24 processors, and the S-Star processor could not even run at its full 750 MHz speed in the big boxes, because it ran out of bandwidth. Making faster S-Stars was possible, in theory, but the chip would run out of gas at 800 MHz or maybe even 900 MHz.

The Power4+ chip is not just a smaller version of the Power4 processor. The Power4 chip has 96 KB of L1 cache per core and a 1.44 MB shared L2 cache on the chip, all made with a 0.18 micron copper process and comprised of 170 million transistors. It is a big, hot chip, and it was really designed for high-end machines and for the MCM (or multi-chip module) packaging that the Regatta pSeries 690 and pSeries 670 make use of. The Power4+ is a single-chip module, like the S-Star, and it is intended to be a higher-volume product. Being a smaller chip using a more advanced 0.13 micron process, IBM's yields on the chip are better, which dramatically reduces the cost of making the chip. (It's hard to say for sure, but a dual-core Power4 chip probably costs $5,000 to $10,000 to make because its large physical size increases the odds that some gunk gets on the chip and messes it up. The bigger the chip, the lower the yield, the higher the cost per chip.) The Power4+ chip has 180 million transistors, most of the increase coming through boosting the L2 cache on the shared core to 1.5 MB. The Power4+ chip is about half the size of the Power4, which is why it will draw less current, will generate less heat, and will run faster. Right now, IBM can ship the chip at 1.2 GHz and 1.45 GHz, and as yields on the chip increase, it seems likely that IBM can get the clock speed up to 1.8 GHz and maybe even as high as 2 GHz.

The fact that an eight-way 750 MHz S-Star server is still a good machine, and that the pSeries 650 using 1.45 GHz processors does not offer a little less than twice the performance of the S-Star server, does not concern IBM all that much. IBM has not, and probably will not, spend a lot of time or money tuning Oracle or DB2 databases to run more efficiently on the Regatta machines, just so it can prove that the Power4 and Power4+ chips are superior to the Star line. Like many IT organizations, IBM is inclined to just throw faster and less expensive hardware at the problem, and that is what the Power4+ is all about. On many workloads, particularly those that hunger for clock cycles instead of cache memory, a Regatta machine will absolutely smoke an S-Star-class box, whether it is running AIX, Linux, or OS/400. What IBM cannot do with raw OLTP performance with the pSeries 650, it has more than made up for with decent pricing.

For instance, a pSeries 660-6M1 express configuration with two 750 MHz S-Star processors and 4 GB of main memory sells for $35,994--full list price for this machine earlier this year was an incredible $87,639, which shows you how deep the discounting is in the Unix market right now. (Express configurations are standard setups that IBM ships as-is and with discounts that generally range from 10 to 30 percent on the pSeries line.) A two-way pSeries 650 using the 1.2 GHz chips and equipped with 4 GB of memory and two 146.8 GB disks lists for $40,893 and has an express configuration price of $31,495. (IBM's rPerf relative performance ratings were not available for this pSeries 650 configuration at press time, so we can only guess that this machine offers a little bit better bang for the buck.) An eight-way pSeries 660 Model 6M1, which has a relative performance rating of 13.28, costs $172,994 in an express configuration with eight 750 MHz processors and 16 GB of main memory (list price for that box was $282,853). A pSeries 650 with eight 1.45 GHz processors has a relative performance rating of 16.88 and has a list price of $147,293 when equipped with two 146.8 GB disks and 16 GB of main memory; the express configuration of this machine sells for $129,995. For the express configurations of those eight-way machines, the pSeries 650 costs about $7,700 per rPerf, compared with the $13,000 per rPerf on the pSeries 660 Model 6M1. This is a very good improvement in price/performance, and one that is necessary to carry IBM into Sun and HP accounts.

Let's just hope that the iSeries base isn't paying indirectly for those generous pSeries prices. I'd also like to believe that this kind of machine will soon be bearing an iSeries label and a new pricing model--but that's a different story.

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But Wait, There's More...

Timothy Prickett Morgan

Managing Editor
Shannon Pastore

Contributing Editors:
Dan Burger
Joe Hertvik
Kevin Vandever
Shannon O'Donnell
Victor Rozek
Hesh Wiener
Alex Woodie

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Jenny Thomas

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Kim Reed

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Last Updated: 11/11/02
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