IBM has added four-core processing capability to the low-end of its System p Unix servers.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled a new quad-core system, the System p5 505Q Express, which IBM is billing as its first 1U system – that’s 4.4 centimetres thick - with four processor cores. IBM also announced processor upgrades to its dual-core and quad-core Express systems.

IBM is targeting mid-sized enterprises with these Express systems by offering the more powerful machines that it says are priced competitively with x86-based servers. The company is also offering special pricing on pre-configured "Solution Edition" servers when they are paired with popular enterprise software such as that from Oracle or SAP.

"For us, this is a market share gain play," said Charles Bryan, a team lead for IBM's System p integrated offering and independent software vendor (ISV) marketing.

IBM has encountered some customer resistance to its servers that may be powerful and feature rich, but can be pricey, Bryan said.

By bundling pre-configured hardware designed to run enterprise software at a special price, "we can neutralise the price issue and the customer can consider the other variables," he said.

For example, a System p5 model 510 Express server with a single-core processor carries a base price of about US$4,200 while the same model with a four-core processor lists at just over $5,500.

Other configurations of the volume market segment servers are priced in the mid-teens to more than $20,000. The models pre-configured to run certain software will carry discounts of 10 percent to 15 percent from build-to-order servers.

By pairing hardware and software, IBM is "attacking the high cost of integration" for enterprise customers, said Joe Clabby, president of research firm Clabby Analytics. Enterprises may buy a stand-alone server but then incur additional costs to install a particular software program on that server.

"They are trying to reduce the cost of deployment and are saying, 'I don't want any hidden costs,'" Clabby said.

With this announcement, IBM adds to the array of servers featuring its four-core processor technology, which enables the central processing unit to handle up to four tasks simultaneously.

A single-core processor may be idle while waiting for another task to be performed, such as retrieving data from a storage device. With multiple cores, the processor can perform other tasks while waiting for that data. Combining multiple independent processors into a single integrated circuit is a more efficient design than putting multiple microprocessors in separate physical packages.

Although dual-core processors are available from other vendors, IBM says it currently offers the computing industry's only four-core processor.

"We're seeing the move toward multicore processors as one way to increase performance without just winding up the clock speed," said Clay Ryder, president of the research firm The Sageza Group.

This more efficient use of the CPU helps reduce heat build-up and electrical consumption, factors of growing concern to enterprises trying to control data centre costs, Ryder said.