IBM is set to announce the industry's first super-computer powered by copper-chip technology. The system will be launched Wednesday at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC).

The new system, the RS/6000 SP, aims at traditional scientific and technical applications markets. IBM officials said they will use the new system to pursue application opportunities that are emerging in some of the lower-end commercial markets as well.

"We think this offering is well suited for commercial applications like server consolidation, Web serving, or ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications. Users can use a system like our S80 to run a database, and then use one of these systems (the RS/6000 SP) as the applications server," Rod Adkins, general manager of Web servers at IBM, said today.

The new node is based on the 64-bit 375MHz Power3-II chip, which the company claims doubles the floating-point performance of any existing system including SGI/Cray Origin 2000 and Sun Microsystems' E1000.

The system's performance results are driven, in part, by its copper-wiring connectors, a technology IBM patented back in 1997. Company officials said one thumbnail-sized Power3-II chip can contain up to a quarter mile of copper wiring.

"We have been seeing 20-plus per cent performance improvements in applications involving ERP, Web serving, and transactional processing because of the copper interconnects," Adkins said.

The Power III chip technology is the predecessor of the Power IV technology, not due in systems until the latter half of 2001. One of the major features of that chip is that IBM can package two CPUs (central processing units) onto a single core. The chip is also expected to be the first gigahertz processor.

In related news, IBM will also announce this week it has manufactured its two millionth copper chip.