Sun ships new UltraSparc, readies Supernova

Sun is rolling out a new 1.35GHz UltraSparc processor across its Sun Fire product line.

Sun Microsystems this week began shipping a new, more powerful version of its UltraSparc IV processor with its Sun Fire v490 and v890 systems, and it expects to begin shipping the chip with its entire line of UltraSparc IV-based Sun Fire systems within the next few weeks, a company executive said Thursday.

The dual-core 1.35GHz UltraSparc IV processor represents a "speed bump" for Sun's servers, which had previously shipped with 1.2GHz chips, said David Yen, executive vice president of Sun's Scalable Systems Group, speaking at the company's Worldwide Education and Research Conference in San Francisco.

The UltraSparc IV+ processor, which will start shipping "toward the end of the year," according to Yen, will be a more significant milestone for Sun Fire customers. Unlike the UltraSparc IV, the IV+ will have an on-chip L2 (level 2) cache, and a third-level cache on the system's motherboard, he said. "Together they will each improve the (chip's) performance," Yen said.

With 295 million transistors, the IV+ will have two 1.8GHz processor cores and 2M bytes of L2 cache, said Kevin Krewell, editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report, in San Jose, California. It is expected to consume approximately 100 watts of power, he said.

The UltraSparc IV+ will improve the performance of Sun's systems, but the company is really banking on its upcoming "throughput computing" processors to regain its lost competitive edge, Krewell said. "They've been behind for awhile now. They've been behind for many years," he said. "These are just incremental improvements to keep the existing customer base happy."

Sun is still on track to begin shipping systems based on the first of these throughput computing chips, the 8-core processor code-named Niagara, by early 2006, Yen said.

Niagara will at first be focused on network-intensive processing, things like Web services, search engines, and online transactions, Yen said. A second generation of the processor will be able to do more sophisticated processing of networked data, including encryption, he said.

A new line of high performance systems, code-named Supernova, will ship after that, Yen said. The Supernova systems will be based on a processor code-named Rock, which is expected to be available in 2008, according to Sun.

The Supernova systems will have the networking capabilities of Niagara but will also have improved single-thread and floating-point performance, Yen said. "The Rock family is designed to achieve the best of both worlds," he said. "We believe that by the time the Rock processor comes out it will be very, very competitive, if not leading, in terms of single-thread performance."

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