IBM started selling a new low-end server on Monday designed to handle general-purpose tasks as an application server or small database server.

The p610 servers come as either one-processor or two-processor systems, running IBM's AIX 5L flavour of the Unix operating system. Customers will be able to choose from two models of the p610. The Model 6E1 was built to take up relatively little space and is less than 61.7cm deep. The 6C1 is designed to fit in a rack and is 5 server units thick, said Chuck Bryan, program director of product marketing for the pSeries at IBM.

The base server in the line starts at £5,250 plus tax (converted), while a fully equipped unit costs a somewhat terrifying £30,000. The server is currently available only in the US.

The p610 can use either one or two Power3-II copper processors from IBM running at either 375MHz or 450MHz. Users can expand memory in the server from 512MB to 8GB. The servers using the 450MHz chips will include 8MB of Level 2 cache, Bryan said.

While the p610 will not come with Power4 processors for some time, the server does include many of the more cutting edge features found in IBM's higher-end hardware.

For example, it comes with a dedicated service processor that monitors a server's health, looking over disk drive and chip performance. The processor can trigger data capture tools if it senses an oncoming failure, Bryan said.

In addition, IBM included small warning lights that are designed to highlight the part of a server causing a problem. Users can make a quick scan in a server room to identify a broken system or look inside the server and find out whether a power supply, CPU, disk drive or memory is the cause of a problem, according to IBM.

IBM will begin to ship the p610s with the Linux operating system next year. Both Red Hat and SuSE Linux are working on 64-bit versions of their operating systems that will run on IBM's Power chips, and should have the software ready by the first quarter of next year, Bryan said.