Sun's UltraSPARC IV to appear in 2003

Sun Microsystems Inc. expects to release the next major upgrade to its UltraSPARC line of processors before the middle of next year, according to company documents.

Sun plans to launch its UltraSPARC IV processor at 1.2GHz between the first and second quarter of 2003, according to processor roadmaps obtained by IDG News Service.

As its current family of UltraSPARC III processors approaches 1.2 GHz Sun will gradually phase that line out, according to the roadmaps. The UltraSPARC III used in most servers today runs at 900MHz or 1.05GHz. Sun will sell the 1.2GHz UltraSPARC IIIs and the UltraSPARC IV chips side by side for a time before phasing out the older family, the roadmaps show.

The Sun documents show the UltraSPARC IV being built with copper interconnect technology and a 0.13-micron manufacturing process. The figure refers to the dimension of features etched onto the surface of chips.

Sun will follow with its UltraSPARC V chip in the early part of 2005, according to the roadmaps. That chip will debut at 1.8GHz and reach 3.0GHz by the end of its lifecycle. Sun may boost the speed of the UltraSPARC V further if customers show interest, said Sue Kunz, director of product marketing for Sun's processor products group. Sun plans to build the UltraSPARC V on a .10-micron manufacturing process, the documents show.

Kunz confirmed the authenticity of at least one of the processor roadmaps, and said the information about chip speeds and manufacturing processes was correct. Sun did not return repeated calls seeking confirmation of other documents, and Kunz was unable to confirm the release dates for the chips.

The documents also reveal that Sun plans to transition from its midrange UltraSPARC IIIi line to the UltraSPARC IVi line when the older chip reaches 1.4GHz. The UltraSPARC IVi will reach speeds of at least 1.6GHz, and follow-on chips in this series are planned to hit 3.0GHz.

Sun's entry-level line of chips, which include the UltraSPARC IIe, will also see speed bumps over the next few years. The chips will hit 1.1GHz with the current generation and then 2.0GHz and beyond with the next generation, the roadmaps show. Release dates were not available for those entry-level products.

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