IBM is upgrading its X3 Architecture-based family of servers with the introduction of new, dual-core systems based on the multi-processor Intel Xeon 7000, formerly codenamed Paxville. They offer two unique features: an IBM-designed, higher performance chipset and 10Gbit/s NICs.

Claiming market leadership for its X3-based servers in both product development and customer service, IBM said that the new, dual-core xSeries 460 will deliver extra performance for both database serving and consolidation projects when using VMware's ESX Server.

The x460 entry configuration is available in configurations from four processors up to 32 processors in an eight-chassis configuration. The xSeries 366 will also support Intel dual-core technology as a four processor server, said IBM. Both will be available this month, run 64-bit x86 OSes from Microsoft, Red Hat and Novell, and are suited to enterprise-level applications, said Big Blue.

IBM said its X3 chipset-based servers are designed to support multiple generations of dual-core technology from a power, thermal and chipset standpoint. Launched in February 2005, the X3 will improve the performance of Xeons on servers with a large number of processors. It also differentiates IBM's offerings as it is claimed to improve performance compared to other Intel OEMs such as Dell, which uses Intel's chipset technology.

The X3 reduces the latency in moving data from the processor to memory, a drawback of Intel's current processor and chipset designs. Unlike AMD, Intel is still reliant on a front-side bus and external memory controller to co-ordinate the movement of data from the processor to memory, a key link in system performance. In this setup, two or more processors must share a single connection to the rest of the chipset, and the memory controller sits outside the processor.

IBM will also use Neterion's Xframe II Ethernet NICs in its new servers, making IBM the first major vendor to use 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology in its Intel processor-based servers, according to Neterion. Xframe II is designed to provide 10Gbit/s throughput in "intense" computing environments, said Neterion, and supports all major operating systems and PCI-X 2.0 with double-data rate (DDR) bus speeds.

The dual-core IBM x460 entry price starts at $20,999; the dual-core x366 entry price starts at $9,999.

At the launch of the multi-processor Xeon products, Intel was joined by perennial partners Dell and Microsoft in detailing the results of its plans to accelerate the introduction of its first dual-core Xeon processors. The chip company launched its first dual-core Xeon processor for two-chip servers three weeks ago, and now offers dual-core processors across all of its x86 server products.

Dell's new PowerEdge 6800 and 6850 servers will feature the new chips, said Neil Hand, Dell's marketing VP, and will start shipping in two weeks. Prices start at around $6,400, and additional details are available from Dell's website.

Intel has included hardware support for virtualisation technology into the Xeon 7000 processors, but that capability won't be available until next year as part of a BIOS upgrade, said Kirk Skaugen general manager of Intel's server platforms groups. The company has been actively promoting its VT technology, which will improve the performance of virtualisation software on these servers.

Intel's dual-core Xeon chips were originally expected to launch in the first quarter of next year. However, Intel moved up the launch date partly because the chips were ready earlier than expected after the company rapidly developed the dual-core desktop processor that serves as a blueprint for the Xeon 7000 chips, and partly in response to competitive pressures from AMD's dual-core Opteron processors, which have been available since April.