Some customers have already been sent prototypes of the energy-efficient, eight-cored chip, which will offer 15 times the throughput of the UltraSparc IIIi+.
Suns upcoming "Niagara" systems will be shipping no later than early 2006, and could even start rolling out earlier.
Andy Ingram, vice president of marketing for Sun Microsystems Inc.s Scalable Systems Groupwhich handles the Santa Clara, Calif., companys Sparc-based systemssaid development of the chip is going well enough that Sun may push back the release of another processor, the UltraSparc IIIi+, to make room for an earlier release.
The UltraSparc IIIi+ currently is scheduled for release later this year.
"This is an important product for us, so were anxious to get it out as soon as possible," Ingram said. "We have an opportunity to accelerate Niagara slightly, but that might require us to push back IIIi+ a bit."
Sun has been using Niagara-based systems in-house for months, and already has sent some prototypes to customers, he said.
In an interview last month, David Yen, executive vice president of Suns Scalable Systems Group, said the company will make Niagara-based systems available to software makers for testing of their applications on the chip.
Niagara is a key component of Suns Throughput Computing strategy. The chip will have eight cores, each of which will be able to process four instruction threads simultaneously.
Read more here about Suns preparations for rolling out its new "Niagara" chips.
Ingram said another follow-up to the current Sparc offerings, UltraSparc IV+, is still on schedule. Systems running the chip are due for release later this year.
Niagara is part of a three-pronged strategy for Sun as it pushes to grow its presence in the server space. It has adopted Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit Opteron processor as its x86 technology, outfitting a new line of systems running on the chip. A new line of Opteron systems, code-named Galaxy, is due during the summer.
Sun also has partnered with Fujitsu Ltd. to jointly develop another line of Sparc-based systems, the Advanced Product Line, which will rely on Fujitsus Sparc64 chip.
Click here to read more about Suns latest UltraSparc processor.
The new systems, due in 2006, will run on a multicore Sparc64 chip code-named Olympus. The Fujitsu partnership was key, Ingram said. Sun would not have been able to afford to keep the UltraSparc roadmap moving forward and develop the more radical Niagara and "Rock" processors.
Niagara will be the first of its Throughput Computing chips. Ingram said that the focus on chips now has moved away from frequency and toward performance.
"Its not about running that one thread faster," he said. "Its about running multiple threads."
The ability to run multiple threads vastly increases the throughput of Niagara over current processors, Ingram said. Niagara will offer 15 times the throughput of UltraSparc IIIi. Niagara II will offer 30 times the throughput.
By contrast, the single-core UltraSparc IIIi+ will offer two times the throughput.
The chips also will be more energy efficient. Niagara will have a power envelope of about 60 watts, depending on the frequency and workload, Ingram said. The power envelopes of Intel Corp.s Xeon chips range from 90 to 130 watts, and AMDs Opteron chips consume 90 watts. Those are important numbers for customers concerned about the costs of power and cooling their data centers.
Niagara II and Rock both require the 65-nanometer manufacturing process, and are due out in 2008. Niagara will be a 90-nanometer chip.
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