IBM Powers Up Performance with Power6 Processor

Updated: IBM unveiled its Power6, a microprocessor so swift that the company claims it could download the entire musical content of Apple's iTunes…in little more than 60 seconds.

IBM finally took the wraps off its much anticipated Power6 microprocessor, which company executives said will double the clock speed of its current Power5 chip, without stretching the power envelope.

The Power6 processor, unveiled at an event on May 21 in London, is a dual-core chip with a top clock speed of 4.7GHz, double the 2.3GHz of the Power5+ processors. The new chip also includes 8MB of L2 cache – four times as large as the current Power5 offering – and an internal bandwidth of 300GB per second.

So fast is the Power6, according to an example offered by the company, that a system based on it could download 20TB of information—about the entire musical content of Apples iTunes—in a little more than 60 seconds.

The Power6 is built on IBMs 65-nanometer process technology. The reduction in the size of the silicon allowed the companys engineers to reduce the processors power consumption by about 30 percent, said Ross Mauri, general manager for System p in IBMs Systems and Technology group.

"The 4.7GHz clock speed of the Power6 is a stunning achievement in terms of speed," Mauri said. "At the same time, you have the same footprint as the Power5 processors. Customers are able to run the same workload and cut their energy use in half or a customer could utilize all the power and double the performance of the workload."

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In addition to the new 65-nm manufacturing process, IBM engineers were able to increase the performance of Power6 while reducing power consumption by keeping the number of pipeline stages—the chunks of operations that must be completed in a single cycle of clock time—static. At the same time, however, engineers were able to make each stage run faster, while removing unnecessary work and allowing the chip to do more work in parallel.

Power6s processor clock also can be dynamically turned off when no work is being done and then turned back on when fresh instructions are needed to be executed. Also, the Power6 allows for memory to be turned on and off as needed to balance the workloads on the server as well as reduce energy consumption.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, said the most significant enhancements IBM has made with Power6 is doubling the performance while using the same thermal envelope and the ability of the chip to manage a systems power consumption.

"With Power6, youre doubling the performance of Power5 and are doing that within the same envelope and they have been able to do that in a very interesting way," King said.

"Then theres the ability to move applications around, which allows for Power6 to turn the memory off and just that alone will save money on the energy bill at the end of the month. Thats a very practical feature."

In addition to announcing the launch of the Power6 processor, IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will begin incorporating the processor in its System p and System i servers within a few weeks.

IBM will start making these systems generally available to customers on June 8, although some companies have already started testing the systems. Eventually, Mauri said, that IBM will offer Power 6 across its product line, including its supercomputers and blades, in systems that can support two to 16 CPUs.

IBM executives also announced that an updated version of the companys AIX operating system, called 6.1, will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. IBM said customers can start downloading the beta of its new Unix OS in July.

Along with the release of the AIX 6.1, IBM has added several new features into Power6 designed to enhance the virtualization of its systems, including a new feature called Live Partition Mobility, which allows users to move a virtual machine from one physical box to another while maintaining continuous availability.

Power6 has a total of 20 different virtualization enhancements that Mauri said will be fully realized once the update version of AIX is released later this year.

The launch of Power6 also gave IBM the ability to pick apart its competition in the Unix market, specifically Hewlett-Packard with its Itanium-based systems as well as Sun Microsystems SPARC/Solaris offerings, IBM officials said.

For example, IBM claims that a system using Power6 is three times faster that an HP system using an Itanium processor. (IBM executives also told audiences that a System p 570 with a Power6 processor has set new records in 25 different benchmarks.)

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"I think the performance enhancements are a pretty solid tool to go after HP and its Itanium line," King said.

In addition, King said the industry will be watching with great interest how HP and Intel respond in the next couple months to the Power6 offering. King said Sun could also try to counter what IBM has done when it releases its next-generation UltraSPARC processor—"Rock"—next year.

Mauri said IBM will offer Power6 in several midrange systems that will appeal to both high-end enterprise customers as well as small and midsize businesses looking to run a single application within a smaller data center. In addition, IBM is giving customers who already use the Power5+ in a system the ability to upgrade to Power6.

In terms of pricing, Mauri said that the base price for a two-socket system will be about $60,000, although different configurations will change the price accordingly.

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