IBM Looks to Double Server Memory with New Chips

FRAMINGHAM (06/27/2000) - Using transistors smaller than a flea, IBM Corp.

Monday announced a new piece of hardware designed to give PC servers the memory of an elephant.

Called Memory eXpansion Technology (MXT), the new memory-controller chip will reside between the processor and the main memory on a server's motherboard, caching frequently accessed data for rapid transmission and compressing less-used data to be stored in memory rather than on a disk.

IBM's research division claimed that MXT has the ability to double the memory of the standard Intel-based PC, and the company said data stored by the device can be decompressed in nanoseconds.

To make it work, Big Blue adapted an available serial-processing algorithm that can be built directly into the chip, said Ellen Yoffa, IBM's director of personal and scalable systems research. "Others have tried to boost memory in the past, but the reason they failed where we succeeded is (that) they attempted to do this using software," she said.

With IBM's approach, Yoffa said, performance should be much faster "because you no longer have to go off to a disk to retrieve your data." The added processing demands required by the MXT technology create a maximum overhead of 3 percent on a system's resources, she added.

ServerWorks Corp., a Santa Clara, California, company that develops logic chips for Intel-based systems, has signed a five-year deal under which it plans to incorporate MXT into future devices to market to any server vendor. "Our goal is to have MXT pervasive throughout the industry," Yoffa said.

Mark Melenovsky, an analyst at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts, called the new technology "a definite innovation," and said IBM's willingness to let an independent company such as ServerWorks market MXT to other vendors gives it the potential to become an industry standard.

But Melenovsky said MXT's pricing will be key to whether or not it succeeds. If the cost is too high, server vendors might decide it's cheaper in the short term to just add more memory to systems, he said.

Yoffa said a price hasn't been set yet on the MXT chips, which are scheduled to begin appearing next year. The chips initially are being designed for use in standard PC servers, such as IBM's own Netfinity line, but IBM also is looking to incorporate the technology into PCs and wireless devices.

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