IBM System x servers are x86 architecture servers running Windows or Linux operating systems, and may contain anywhere from one to eight Intel or AMD processors in a single server. However, most of the systems are shipped from IBM manufacturing with only one microprocessor installed, which allows customers and business partners to choose and install additional components such as microprocessors, hard drives, memory DIMMs, adapter cards, etc.
Continuous advances in microprocessor capabilities have driven Intel and AMD to change to a more dense socket design technology called Land Grid Array socket (LGA). However, this denser socket type is very susceptible to damage due to mishandling of the microprocessor or other components near the microprocessor socket. Unlike the previous socket technology, when the pins on the LGA socket get damaged, the entire system board must be replaced which is a very costly repair. This costly damage is a major concern for IBM and can cause extra downtime for our customers if not addressed.
The System x Human Factors team has been working with System x service planning, quality, and development over the past several years to create processor handling tools that reduce this risk of damage. The first processor tool was developed for the high end eX5 System x systems (x3850 X5, x3690 X5, and blade). The next generation of the IBM CPU installation tool was developed for the mainstream System x 2-socket servers such as the x3550 M3, x3650 M3, and HS22 blades. These systems account for the major bulk of server volumes in the System x portfolio, and have also accounted for a lot of socket damage over the past couple years.
The Human Factors (HF) team not only led the business case development for these tools, but was instrumental in providing the design requirements for the new tool design. A user evaluation of the existing processor tool options was performed at the beginning of the project, and the results of this test showed that none of the commercially available tools were able to reduce the risk of processor socket damage to an acceptable level. This led to the effort to develop a unique IBM tool that could.
The design team, which comprised of mechanical and human factors engineers, developed a novel rotational cam tool concept that would prevent the accidental dropping of processors onto the socket, a problem that most of the other tools evaluated experienced. Several iterations of this design, along with iterative user testing of the processor installation tool, yielded further improvements in the tool design including markings on the tool, features to aid in handling of the tool, and the recommendation to pre-install the processor into the tool.
Before the final design of the tool was locked in, a formal summative usability test was performed by Blue Sky Analytical, a local usability testing firm located in North Carolina. This test showed that the tool design was successful in minimizing the mishandling episodes that lead to socket damage, and was a more preferred method of processor installation than without the aid of the tool. Participants heavily favored the use of the tool for installing extra processors in all three system types tested, and the tool provided higher confidence in the installation than the traditional manual method. One participants wrote "Tool is nice, especially the alignment". Another participant wrote "Really like the tool. Makes it easy to work with the processors." Numerous other favorable comments also were provided by the study participants.
These processor installation tools have led to a major reduction in warranty costs due to damaged microprocessor sockets on system boards. Based on these favorable results, the processor installation tools will be included with future IBM System x systems.