IBM blade billed as supercomputer for the IT Joe

IBM unveils a server based on the video game Cell chip

IBM has unveiled a new blade server based on the Cell chip that was originally designed to run a video game console.

The IBM BladeCenter QS22 runs the new PowerXCell 8i chip, a souped up version of the Cell processor jointly developed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba to run large computations on the Playstation 3 video game system. Instead of running operating systems, the Cell chip takes on massive calculations, making it well-suited for video games or supercomputing tasks.

The updated Cell chip has 16 times more memory and is five times faster than the original, IBM says.

"The new Cell chip is up to 20 times faster on some common financial calculations than Intel's quad-cores," says Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "The real advantage is being able to run a lot of workloads a lot faster than you thought possible. It could potentially be a game changer for some companies."

Olds added that the new system will let IT managers run projects in house using much less hardware. "If you're currently using 20 Intel- or AMD-based systems, you could replace that with one of these blades," he added. "Think of the difference."

While IBM has used Cell blades in the new Roadrunner supercomputer that they're building for Los Alamos National Laboratory now, this is the first time they'll be selling them for more than research applications.

The Cell-based blades are largely expected to give Roadrunner enough of a power boost to enable it to bypass the petaflop barrier when it's fully tested later this month.

The QS22 blade is designed to work in supercomputers or in a large corporate datacentre, according to Olds. It can be used on its own or along side other blades, like those based on AMD and Intel processors.

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