Sun Hoping Niagra 2

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2007-08-07 Print this article Print

Falls into Place"> Sun Microsystems, which has fought to win back both its financial and technological mantel, is taking the next step in its microprocessor business Aug. 7 with the debut of the latest UltraSPARC chip. The UltraSPARC T2, also known as Niagara 2, has the same number of cores—up to eight—as the original Niagara processor, but Sun engineers have doubled the number of instructions on each core from four to eight, giving the chip a total of 64 threads.
Instead of ratcheting up the clock speed, as IBM did with its Power6 processor and as Intel has done with its quad-core Xeon chips, Sun focused on increasing the thread count to increase performance and double the throughput compared to the older Niagara processor.
The release of the Suns newest Niagara processor is the first major update to the chip line since the first UltraSPARC T1 was introduced in 2005. It also comes just a week after the company reported a solid financial fourth quarter with a net income of $329 million, compared to a year-earlier loss of $301 million. Revenues were $3.84 billion this year compared to $3.83 billion from last year. As the company works to regain its financial footing, it also looking to bounce back and prove that its silicon offerings can compete against any of those offered by IBM, Intel or even Advanced Micro Devices. The announcement is also a big boost for the companys newly minted Microelectronics Division, which not only creates new technologies for Suns own products but also looks to sell patents to other vendors. Sun and IBM are looking to bring supercomputing into a new era. Click here to read more. Sun is also looking to drum up interest in the Niagara 2 with other system vendors and is planning to launch the chip months before the company releases new servers built around the processor. David Yen, executive vice president of Suns Microelectronics Division, said the new chip, with all its additional features, will appeal to a much broader audience than the current UltraSPARC T1, including those vendors that want to use Niagara in their own systems. "Sun established this new business and [our customers and other vendors] have a strong interest in Suns silicon technology," Yen said. "Time will tell and this is a very ambitious plan. Sun doesnt own foundries and it doesnt have the resources of, say, an Intel. What we do have is the superiority of technology and Niagara will be a significant step for our microelectronics business within the industry." Since Sun is promoting its CMT (chip multithreading) with Niagara 2, the Santa Clara, Calif. company will offer the first two versions of the chip with clock speeds of only 1.2GHz and 1.4GHz. The chip also offers a large L2 cache—4MB—that is shared across eight banks. While that might have been seen as a downside in an industry that still places great emphasis on clock speed, Sun has also made a number of significant changes with Niagara 2 to take advantage of CMT, including increasing the floating point performance of the new chip, which had been a downside to the previous generation. Page 2: Sun Hoping Niagra 2 Falls into Place


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