IBM Unwraps Opteron-Based Workstation - InformationWeek

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Hardware & Infrastructure

IBM Unwraps Opteron-Based Workstation

The IntelliStation A Pro, scheduled to ship in May, will be based on AMD's Opteron 244, 246, and 248 processors.

IBM unveiled its first workstation based on Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s 64-bit Opteron chip, and boasted that it beat to market rivals such as Sun and Hewlett-Packard in bringing the processor to the technical desktop.

The IntelliStation A Pro, which is scheduled to ship in May, will be based on AMD's Opteron 244, 246, and 248 processors, which run at 1.8 GHz, 2.0 GHz, and 2.2 GHz, respectively. The workstation will be available in both single- and dual-processor configurations.

"This is the first workstation based on the Opteron from a top-tier company," said Charles King, research director at consulting firm Sageza Group.

Fujitsu's European subsidiary, Fujitsu Siemens, has been selling dual-processor Opteron workstations, the Celsius V810, but not in the United States.

"The most interesting thing about the IntelliStation is that since it's the first system [with the Opteron] offered globally, it offers the 32-bit to 64-bit mobility that servers now do, but in the workstation market," King said. "The fact that you can run both levels of apps offers users some additional flexibility.

"I'm not surprised that IBM was the first to announce an Opteron system in the technical computing space," King added. "IBM has had its biggest uptick in Opteron servers, and this is a sophisticated add-on to that environment."

AMD aggressively pitches its Opteron processor, which can handle both 32- and 64-bit applications, as the base for systems that can easily transition between today's 32-bit apps and future 64-bit software.

Another advantage of 64-bit computing, said Matt Wineberg, the product manager for IBM's IntelliStation line, is that it breaks the 4-Gbyte memory barrier of 32-bit applications. "In some applications, oil and gas exploration, for instance, there's a memory bottleneck [at 4 Gbytes]. Applications written for 64-bit processors, however, can access as much as 16 Gbytes of memory directly, making for faster processing of complex modeling.

Like the other models in IBM's IntelliStation line--it already sells models based on Intel's Pentium 4 (the M Pro), Intel's Xeon processor (Z Pro), and IBM's own Power processor (Power 275), IBM is aiming the Opteron edition at high-power computing tasks, both those in the commercial mainstream, such as computer aided design, computer aided engineering, digital content creation, and financial analysis, and niche markets like life science, oil and gas, and drug discovery.

That's a departure for IBM, added Sarang Ghatpande, lead analyst at D.H. Brown Associates. "IBM's previous top-line workstation, the Power-based 275, is aimed at the application base," he said. "Moving to Opteron gives IBM an opportunity to move into new market segments."

Initially, IBM will offer the IntelliStation A Pro in a configuration pre-loaded with Red Hat Enterprise Workstation 3.0 for 32- and 64-bit systems. The workstation will also run SuSE's Linux at 32- and 64-bits and Microsoft's current Windows XP Professional at 32 bits. However, Windows support for 64-bit computing will have to wait until later this year, when Microsoft's is expected to ship its version of Windows XP for the Opteron. In September 2003, Microsoft released a beta version of its Windows XP 64-Bit Edition for 64-Bit Extended Systems.

Both analysts expect that IBM's hardware rivals will follow with Opteron-based workstations of their own. Currently, both Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems have placed Opteron chips in some of the servers.

"There will be other people entering the market," with Opteron workstations," said Ghatpande. "The processor offers a good value proposition."

IBM is taking a look at the way the market has responded to Opteron," added King. "It may be a bit of a roll of the dice, this first to market, but with Sun and HP on the Opteron bandwagon, IBM now has had a bit of a head start."

Pricing for a single-processor IntelliStation A Pro with a 1.8-GHz processor, a NVidia graphics card, and 1 Gbyte of memory will start at $2,619, according to Wineberg; however, all but one of the A Pro's models will feature two Opterons and more memory.

"It's hard to generalize about prices, but I'd expect the $5,000 range is where things will land for most customers," Wineberg said.

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