March 30, 2007 5:18 PM PDT

Quad-core heading to NEC's resilient servers

NEC said this week that it's updating its fault-tolerant line of servers with Intel's new quad-core processors--a move that marks a major shift to a more competitive processor family.

The company's machines employ an unusual design to avoid hardware failures: software runs in lockstep on two linked servers, permitting jobs to continue running even if one system fails. The approach has the advantage of avoiding costly and complicated high-availability software, but it also lengthens hardware design cycles, meaning NEC's new Express5800/320Fc is only now getting chips that arrived in ordinary servers in 2006.

NEC will begin accepting orders for the 320FC in April and shipping them in June, said Mike Mitsch, general manager of alliances and strategy in NEC's IT Platform Group. The company isn't announcing pricing, but it will start in the mid-$40,000 range for the dual-processors systems, he said.

Intel's dual-core Xeon 5100 "Woodcrest" and quad-core Xeon 5300 "Clovertown" processors both use the chipmaker's newer Core architecture, which has helped the company recover market share lost to Advanced Micro Devices. But NEC's servers currently use the earlier-generation NetBurst-based single-core "Nocona" and dual-core "Paxville" Xeons.

The 320FC systems will use 2.66GHz chips and a 1,333MHz front-side bus connection to memory and other subsystems. Additional changes with the new systems include a memory limit of 24GB compared with 8GB, Serial Attached SCSI hard drive support, and a PCI Express input-output subsystem.

NEC had planned a four-processor machine, but because of the extra design demands of lockstep processing, the company concluded it would have been prohibitively expensive, Mitsch said. "We didn't get as much of a demand for that product, because it started at a much higher price point," he said.

Quad-core processors are a more cost-effective way to support higher-end tasks, he added.

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NEC Electronics Corp., fault-tolerance, Intel Xeon, quad-core, dual-core

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