Last week, Hewlett-Packard began taking orders for a new four-processor blade system that will use AMD's new dual-core Opteron chips - one week before the official launch.

HP quickly removed the offending pages from the company's website, according to The Inquirer website. The company plans to announce the BL45p next week, with shipments beginning 20 to 30 days after the announcement, an HP spokeswoman confirmed. The Web pages in question were accidentally posted early, she said.

AMD and chip rival Intel have been racing each other to be first to ship processors with two computational engines, called cores, on a single processor. AMD is expected to launch its new processors on 21 April.

The new HP blade is based on a similar design to HP's 4-way Xeon, the BL40p, but thanks to AMD's dual core processors, it is the first blade server from a major vendor to have so many processing engines. The dual-core Opterons are designed to use the same amount of power as their single-core predecessors, and AMD has had to reduce the clock speed of the processors to 2.0 GHz in order to add the second processing engine without driving up the chip's power requirements. AMD's single-core Opterons have a maximum clock speed of 2.6 GHz.

With the launch of the BL45p, which will ship with the Opteron 875 dual-core processor, HP's Opteron blade line will be as broad as its Xeon offerings. By the end of the year, the company intends to also begin shipping its first blade system based on Intel's Itanium 2 processor. Analysts say that this third line of blade products will likely be based on Intel's upcoming dual-core Itanium processor, code-named "Montecito."

Blades have emerged as an alternative to rack-mounted servers in recent years. Smaller than rack servers, they are slid side-by-side into a special chassis which allows them to share resources like network cables, power, and cooling. Though the market was initially slow to adopt blades, they have become more popular of late. Gartner estimates that about 290,000 blades were shipped in 2004. It expects that number to nearly double in 2005.

HP has decided that blades are here to stay and it is now going through the process of making all of its server products available in this new form, said John Enck, a Gartner analyst. "They're simply trying to duplicate... all their servers in the blade environment," he said. "They're the only one of the vendors that is supporting Xeon and Opteron."

Part of the reason for HP's blade focus is that with the complex engineering work that goes into the blade chassis and management software, there is still plenty of room for HP to create products that are unique, said Ann Livermore, the executive vice president of HP's Technology Solutions Group. "Blades are still fairly early," she said in an interview earlier this week. "What ends up standard and what ends up differentiated tends to evolve over time."

Right now, the amount of research and development required to bring blade systems gives HP an advantage over other server vendors, Livermore said. "Dell has almost no market share in blades. Why? It's a solution sale," she said.

Dell has no plans to begin shipping Opteron systems, and while IBM has said that it intends to ship an Opteron blade, it has not yet revealed any details on this product.

The breadth of HP's blade product line gives the company an advantage, for the moment, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata. "HP is a large enough company and a big enough player to be able to pull it off," he said. "If this were a startup, you'd be saying, "God, what are they doing with all these products?"

A dual-processor version of the BL45p was listed for US$3,000 on HP's website Thursday. Additional processors were listed as $1,000 each, the site said.