Intel’s New Upgradeable CPU: Not a New Idea – But is it a Good One?

There has been some discussion about the new processor from Intel which comes with some features disabled and unlockable only by purchasing an unlock code from Intel. Peter Bright has an excellent write-up on the idea of an upgradeable processor.

If you administer mainframes or enterprise servers, you’ve likely already seen this idea. HP Superdomes, for example, can be purchased with deactivated processors and so forth, then the processors can be turned on temporarily or purchased outright at a later date. IBM Z System also comes with a similar capability – often called something like Capacity on Demand.

The main question is whether the consumer will find this a desirable thing or not; it is possible that the idea will not sell. I find that system “upgrades” are actually done by replacing the system completely.

It is also probably a better idea to increase system memory than it is to upgrade to a faster, more capable processor. More memory means more can be done without going to disk, which is always important as disk is the slowest element.

IBM Introduces Power7

On Monday, IBM introduced the Power7 processor to go up against the new Itanium Tukwila officially introduced by Intel the same day. The general consensus among those reviewing (such as CNET’s Brooke Crothers) these chips is that the Power7 is much better than the Itanium chip. Indeed, the Tukwila chip was delayed for two years.

This new Power chip will provide twice the processing power of its predecessor but with four times the energy efficiency, according to IBM. The Power7 offers eight cores with four threads each, giving 32 processing cores.

However, one notable absence is Sun: no new UltraSparc processor was announced. Of course, with Sun’s recent financial difficulties plus the buyout of Sun by Oracle, there may just be too much going on at the moment. Yet, will a new UltraSparc come too late?

In the meantime, analysts are noting the fact that Unix servers (such as those running Power7, UltraSparc, and Itanium) are declining, and that the x86 servers are increasing in power and capabilities, with the Nehalem-EX (otherwise known as Beckton) due out soon.

What this means for system administrators is that Linux on x86 could be the biggest growing career, in contrast to Unix (such as HP-UX, Solaris, and AIX).