HP turns to AMD for new blade PCs

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is expected to release an update to its blade PC product on Monday, switching to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s (AMD’s) processors for its alternative to traditional desktop PCs.

HP’s new bc1500 blade PC uses a special low-power Athlon 64 processor from AMD in place of the Transmeta Corp. Efficeon processors found in older versions of HP’s CCI (consolidated client infrastructure) products, said Tad Bodeman, director of HP’s CCI and thin client products.

Blade PCs are essentially a collection of motherboards stacked in a chassis, similar to how blade servers are deployed. They allow IT departments to centrally manage their PCs in order to improve the security and reliability of those systems.

Unlike a thin client, a blade PC gives each user a processor, memory, and hard drive reserved for their use, rather than having to share resources with everyone else on a server. The blade chassis sits in a company’s server room and is connected via Ethernet cables to a small box that sits on the user’s desktop, where a standard monitor, keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals can be connected.

With Transmeta abandoning processor production to focus on licensing its intellectual property, HP decided to work with AMD on integrating a low-power 64-bit processor into the compact blade PC format, Bodeman said. The processor consumes only 9 watts of power, meaning it can be used without a fan on the motherboard.

Other than the processor, another significant change in HP’s blade PC strategy comes courtesy of Microsoft Corp., which has clarified its position on software licensing for blade PCs, Bodeman said. Previously, HP’s blade PC users had to purchase one license to run the Windows OS on the blade PC in the server room, and then negotiate with Microsoft on the licensing fee they would pay to run the software on the desktop box, he said.

Now Microsoft has agreed to let blade PC users purchase one license per user to run Windows on their blade PC deployments, simplifying the deployment process and reducing costs for users, Bodeman said.

The bc1500 comes with an Athlon 64 1500+ processor, 512M bytes of DDR (double data rate) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), and a 40G-byte hard drive. To get up and running, customers must also buy a blade PC chassis, which can accommodate up to 20 individual blades, and an HP e-class Gigabit Ethernet networking switch.

Including management software and the desktop access device, IT managers could expect to pay about US$1,000 per user for the setup, Bodeman said. Although this may seem like a lot compared to the prices of similarly configured desktops, which might cost as much as $600 less per unit, blade PCs allow IT departments to lower the costs of managing their PCs over the long term, he said. For example, administrators don’t need to walk around to each PC to replace faulty hardware or patch buggy systems.

As virtualization technologies become more prevalent, the cost savings become even more apparent, Bodeman said. Both AMD and Intel Corp. are planning to build hardware support for virtualization software into upcoming processors, which could allow IT managers to assign multiple users to a single blade, he said.

HP’s CCI blade PCs follow the efforts of ClearCube Technology Inc. to develop a market for blade PCs. ClearCube has been developing and selling blade PCs since 1997 and is considered the leader in what is still a small market. PC vendor Lenovo Group Ltd. announced plans this year to resell ClearCube’s products to its corporate customers.

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