HP has become the first major vendor to offer a four-processor Opteron server.

The ProLiant DL585 is a 4U (18cm high) Opteron-powered sister product to its Xeon-based DL580.

The new server will have two more PCI-X (Peripheral Component Interconnect Extended) slots than the 580, and support up to 64GB of memory - 50 per cent more than the DL580, according to HP Group Manager for ProLiant Systems, Steve Cumings.

It will also be less expensive than the Xeon system. An entry level two-processor configuration of the DL585 built with AMD's fastest-performing 2.2GHz 64-bit Opteron 848 processors will cost US$11,999 (£6,638), Cumings. A similar configuration of the DL580, based on Intel's fastest processor - the 2.8GHz Xeon MP - will list for $15,798 (£8,740).

Because of differences between Opteron and Xeon, however, the DL585 will not have the Xeon's memory protection. "Because of the Opteron architecture, you have the memory controller on the processor itself, so it's not actually possible to deliver Hot-Plug memory in the way we've done it with the Intel processors," Cumings said. The DL580's Hot-Plug feature lets the system replace a failed memory unit on the server, Cumings said.

High-performance computer users have embraced dual-processor Opteron systems as inexpensive 64-bit components in large computing clusters, but HP's four-way system may extend Opteron's appeal into the enterprise, according to Mark Melenovsky, an analyst with IDC.

Four-way systems are typically designed for enterprise users running packaged applications, who have not yet embraced the Opteron processor, Melenovsky said. "It's going to be an interesting battleground for AMD and for Opteron against Intel," he said. "Users are strongly wedded to Intel and the Intel brand."

Opteron systems accounted for only about less than half a percent of the 228,000 four-way x86 servers that shipped in 2003, Melenovsky said. And while IDC has not estimated how many four-way Opteron systems will ship in the year ahead, it expects the total x86 four-way market to grow to 245,000 units in 2004, fuelled in part by the new HP system, as well as a planned four-way Opteron server from Sun, which is expected by the end of June.

HP will also announce three new pre-configured 32-node computer clusters based on its ProLiant servers. The clusters will be available with either the Xeon-based DL140 and DL360 servers, or the Opteron-based DL145 server. The clusters, called the HPC LC Series, will be priced starting at $67,829 (£37,530), HP said.

Additional processors for the DL585 will list for $4,699 (£2,600) each, HP said. A four-processor DL585 with 2G bytes of memory will list for $21,397 (£11,840), the company said.