IBM research breakthrough doubles computer memory

IBM has unveiled a technology that doubles the memory capacity of computer servers, a breakthrough which could save Internet service providers and other large technology installations millions of dollars.

Named IBM Memory eXpansion Technology, it could eventually be adapted for personal computers, but it is initially designed for Intel-based industry-standard PC servers, such as IBM’s Netfinity line.

With MXT, customers can either cut costs by buying half the memory to achieve the same performance, or they can increase performance by installing the same amount of memory to achieve twice the capacity. The savings can be significant for both small and large customers, as memory comprises 40 to 70 percent of the cost of most NT-based server configurations.

The new chip manages the way data is stored in a computer’s ‘fast’ or random-access memory, doubling the amount of data it can hold without sacrificing speed. This improvement comes on top of whatever advances new chip-making processes may bring.

Used in conjunction with conventional memory chips, the MXT chip makes sure that frequently used data and instructions are stored close to a computer’s microprocessor, so they can be accessed quickly. Less frequently used data and instructions are then compressed, so they take up less space, and stored in the remaining memory.

The chip makes use of hardware based algorithms for compressing and managing data that previously were available only as software, making them too slow to provide a significant benefit. Since the MXT chip uses circuitry rather than software, it can compress and uncompress data in a matter of a few billionths of a second – 10,000 times faster than previous software techniques.

A typical Windows 2000 or NT-server based rack-mounted computer system configuration can achieve its maximum memory capacity of 168 gigabytes with only 84 gigabytes installed. With the retail cost of server memory at several thousand dollars per gigabyte, a customer could double their memory capacity and cut their cost per gigabyte by half, saving about $250,000 per rack of servers. For a customer with a large IT installation — such as an ISP with multiple racks of servers — MXT could result in total savings of more than a million dollars.

In a five-year technology sharing agreement with IBM, ServerWorks Corp. of Santa Clara, California, plans to incorporate MXT technology into its next-generation high-end core logic solutions. ServerWorks, a supplier of high-performance core logic for Intel-based servers, anticipates that it will first offer MXT in a product known by the code name ‘Pinnacle.’ The company has the right to sell products incorporating MXT technology to all its customers.