Sun unveils UltraSparc IV+

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Tuesday was set to announce its UltraSparc IV+ microprocessor, the last significant upgrade to the company's processor line before it begins shipping the redesigned chips it calls "throughput computing" processors, and hands over the task of building chips for the bulk of its systems to Fujitsu Ltd.

The UltraSparc IV+ will be Sun's first chip to be built with a 90-nanometer process technology, and it will have a higher clock speed and larger and more flexible memory caches than the current generation of UltraSparc IV processors, said Dale Greenly, Sun's director of engineering for UltraSparc IV+, who will be discussing the new processor at the Fall Processor Forum in San Jose Tuesday.

"The biggest thing that we wanted to aim at was performance. We're basically going to double application performance," he said.

When the UltraSparc IV+ begins shipping in mid-2005, it will have a clock speed of 1.8 GHz, an increase over the 1.05- to 1.2-GHz clock speeds available on UltraSparc IV. A later upgrade to the processor will boost the chip's clock speed over 2 GHz, Greenly said.

Another difference will be the addition of a 2MB on-chip Level 2 cache, where data can be stored and quickly accessed by the processor. The new chip will also have a 32MB off-chip cache, which will be twice the size of the UltraSparc IV's off-chip memory unit. "What we've done is basically added another layer of cache and brought that onboard," Greenly said.

Like the UltraSparc IV, the new processor will have two processor cores built onto the same chip, but its memory interface has been changed to support dynamic double rate memory. UltraSparc IV supports the less speedy synchronous dynamic RAM memory.

The UltraSparc IV+ may be a necessary performance improvement for Sun, but it won't give Sun a performance lead over rival chip makers like IBM or Intel Corp., said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H.

"I call this one a speed bump," Eunice said. "This is a natural evolution of the UltraSparc IV, but I think the big jumps for Sun, in terms of performance or system design, come in the new Fujitsu generation or in the Niagara and Rock generation." Niagara and Rock are the code names for the first two of Sun's throughput computing processors. The first of these systems, based on the eight-core Niagara processor, is expected to ship in 2006.

At the same time as Sun's throughput computing systems start emerging, the company also expects to begin shipping systems based on Fujitsu's Sparc64 VI processor, code-named Olympus.

The dual-core Sparc64 VI will have a clock speed in excess of 2.4 GHz and an on-chip L2 cache of 6MB. Based on a 90-nm process technology, it will be followed in 2007 by a 65-nm Sparc64+ processor, according to Fujitsu's Web site.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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