IBM has released the first servers based on its new 64-bit Power5+ processors.

The machines are aimed at small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) - those with fewer than 1,000 employees. They include several new products, notably a four-core server, together with new virtualisation and systems management software.

The Power5+ chips come in clock speeds of either 1.5GHz or 1.9GHz with a maximum of 72MB of onboard cache memory, according to Jeff Howard, programme director for IBM's p5 product marketing.

The new System p5 550 Q is powered by a 1.5GHz four-core Power5+ chip enabling the hardware to function as an eight-way machine, he said. The System p5 505 is IBM's first rack server for the Power5 or Power5+ architecture in a 1U form factor.

"We're starting with P5 and will extend [the Power5+ chip] to the mid-range and high-end in 2006," Howard said.

IBM also upgraded two existing server models to feature the new chip - the two-way 1.9GHz System P5 520 and the four-way 1.9GHz System P5 550.

The servers are available with IBM's AIX 5L, or in what Big Blue calls the OpenPower edition with the Linux operating system from either Red Hat or Novell. The machines are part of IBM's Express line of hardware and all machines come with a three-year warranty, according to Howard.

"We've taken the best of our eServer P5 and OpenPower line that we had in the past," Howard said. IBM is dropping the eServer prefix from its P5 product line and replacing it with "System" - a rebranding move begun back in July when the company introduced its latest mainframe as the System z9.

Big Blue expects all the Power5+-based machines to ship from 14 October. The System P5 505 has a starting price of $3,750, while IBM is still finalising pricing for the other servers. UK prices were not yet available.

The four-core Power5+ chip is a development of the IBM Power5, and is largely a geometry change, marking the sift of architecture from 130nm to 90nm. According to IBM, with more cores than ever, it yields 15 per cent higher clock frequencies with a 37 per cent die size reduction. As well as 76MB of L2 and L3 cache combined, power consumption is down, and IBM has taken the opportunity to improve memory management, according to P-Series business development manager Simon Robertson. It will be sold in 1.5GHz, 1.65GHz and 1.9GHz versions.

New software
IBM also announced two new software products targeted at SMBs. Integrated Virtualization Manager (IVM) provides a browser-based interface to the company's virtualisation micro-partitioning capabilities, according to Howard. "It takes three clicks of a mouse to create and activate a micro-partition," he said. "We're making the use of virtualisation much, much easier."

Big Blue also took the wraps off a P-Series version of its Director 5.1 systems management software which it said will be free of charge to its pSeries customers. Users should be able to download the software from IBM's website starting 25 November.

Rival Sun released the first servers based on its new UltraSparc IV+ chips last month. Both IBM and Sun's processors are RISC-based.