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HP upgrades chipset for entry-level Itanium servers

Posted: 11 Sep 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Hewlett-Packard? HP? Itanium? server? Intel?

Hewlett-Packard (HP) has updated the chipset for its entry-level Itanium-based servers as it rolls out systems for the long anticipated release of Montecito, Intel's first dual-core version of Itanium. The ZX-2 chipset is HP's first to support PCI Express and PCI-X 2.0.

The new chipset expands memory and I/O bandwidth and capacity for HP's low-end Itanium servers. Interestingly, the company decided not to support the full 533MHz data rates of PCI-X 2.0, and it will not offer Express support until early 2007.

HP said the 266MHz data rates for PCI-X are adequate to serve the various multiport Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet cards it plans to offer. The delay in Express support is due to the need to respin the I/O chips in the new ZX-2 offering.

All of HP's existing servers can accept the dual-core Itanium as an upgrade. But the company specifically respun its ZX-1 ASIC for low-end systems to add Express and a handful of other enhancements.

The company announced two new servers using the ZX-2 chipset. The RX3600 is a 4U-size server with two Itanium CPUs, eight Serial-Attached SCSI drives and eight PCI slots, two of them capable of 266MHz data rates. The RX6600 is a 7U server with four CPUs, 16 SAS drives and eight PCI slots.

Currently, four-processor systems mark "the sweet spot for us in Unix configurations," said Tim Danielsen, an HP product line manager. The new servers provide a 20 percent performance boost at the same or lower costs of previous entry-level Itanium servers, he said.

With the new release, the company is also moving end user software for managing and virtualizing servers over from its x86 systems to the Itanium. As for third- party software, some 9,000 applications are now available on the Itanium systems, double the number from a year ago, Danielsen said.

HP is by far the leading vendor for Itanium systems, a processor architecture it codeveloped with Intel Corp. Focused on big data center servers, Itanium has narrowed its role from its original ambitions of replacing the x86.

The Montecito version of Itanium is a 90nm CPU running at up to 100W with two cores each supporting two threads. It has a 533MHz front-side bus, but the new HP chipset is rated to support the 667MHz front-side bus of the follow on to Montecito.

The ZX-2 chip set comes in three parts: a memory controller with I/O cache links to the CPU bus; multiple I/O adapter chips are used to fan out I/O slots: and memory expander chips can be added as needed for capacity or bandwidth.

The chip set now supports 10Gbytes/s maximum I/O throughput, up from 4Gbytes/s in the ZX-1. Latency for DMA reads has declined from 700 to 400ns.

The chipset supports up to 385Gbytes of DDRII memory running at 533MHz, up from a total of 256Gbytes of DDR at 266MHz with the ZX-1. Memory bandwidth has jumped from 8.5 to 17GBps and latency has decreased from 90 to 60ns.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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