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IBM, the world’s largest computer manufacturer, on Monday launched a family of microprocessors that have doubled the speed of the previous generation while using the same amount of energy.

The company believes the new chips can help with an energy crisis that is threatening to cripple data centres worldwide.

Speaking in London, Bill Zeitler, IBM senior vice-president for systems and technology, said the crisis had arisen because of unprecedented demand for power. “There are six times as many servers in each data centre as there were a decade ago and each is using four to five times as much power. They cannot keep up with the energy requirements.”

Customers using computers equipped with the new chips would be able to double their processing capabilities for no extra energy consumption or maintain their processing rate using half as much electricity, IBM said.

The new microprocessor family, the Power 6, is the latest in a line of IBM-designed chips used by companies including itself and, at one time Apple, for personal computers and servers. Games consoles such as the Sony PlayStation, the Microsoft X-Box and the Nintendo Wii use processors derived from Power chip designs as does Blue Gene, the world’s fastest supercomputer.

IBM claims the Power 6 processor is two to three times faster than the competition, including the Itanium family from Intel, the world’s largest chip maker. With two “cores”, or processing circuits, on each chip, it is claimed to be hugely faster on a range of industry standard benchmarks while using no more power.

Its energy-saving capabilities follow a series of design innovations such as providing power-hungry parts of the chip with their own electricity supply and turning off parts of the chip not being actively used.

The chips take advantage of an advanced concept called “virtualisation”, which enables a single computer to behave as if it were many. Each core can handle 20 applications simultaneously. An eight-chip, 16-core system could process 320 applications at the same time, a big advance on the state of the art at present.

Some companies have reported energy savings of up to 80 per cent after consolidating applications on to a “virtual” machine.

Mr Zeitler said IBM would sell the new chips to other manufacturers. Bull of France and Hitachi of Japan had helped in their development and would use them.

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