Sun Microsystems Inc., responding to increasing pressure from rivals and seeking to put recent troubles behind it, this week touted performance improvements for its upcoming 1GHz processor while attacking IBMs chip claims as "unrealistic."
Although the 1.05GHz UltraSPARC III, set for release early next year, is only 100MHz faster than the companys current top-performing chip, Sun claims itll perform up to 72 percent faster on benchmark tests. The gains come from improved manufacturing techniques, enhanced internal buffer sizes and management, and more efficient object code generated by a new version of the Forte compiler, the company said.
But higher benchmark scores are misleading, said one analyst.
"My understanding is that a lot of the performance comes from the new and improved compiler," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight64, in Saratoga, Calif. "The good news is that those enhancements would probably boost the performance of all UltraSPARC III chips. The bad news is that most people dont recompile applications just because of a processor upgrade."
In addition to boasting about improved benchmark scores, Sun slammed higher marks recently posted by IBMs new 1.3GHz Power4 chip. Sun argued that IBMs scores were "unrealistic" because only one processor used a key memory cache normally shared by multiple processors.
Sun executives said that would not happen in the real world.
"Those are fighting words," Brookwood said. "IBM had no choice but to disable those other CPUs since the benchmarks are based on uni-processor performance. Basically, Sun is articulating its strategic problem, which is IBMs Power4 is coming out ahead of it in performance."
In fact, Suns emphasis on benchmarks marks a shift in its marketing strategy, said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with Cahners/In-State MDR, in Sunnyvale, Calif.
"This is a total change for them, theyve always downplayed benchmarks since the release of the UltraSPARC III," he said. "It looks like theyve done a 180-degree flip on this, now all of a sudden these benchmarks are the bomb."
The new aggressive strategy was probably spurred by the public relation problems caused by the companys more than six month delay in releasing the 900MHz UltraSPARC III this year, Krewell said, and the release of new processors from Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp. and IBM.
Sun, of Palo Alto, Calif., is the third largest overall server vendor worldwide and the largest supplier of Unix-based servers overall, based on revenue, according to third-quarter results posted by Gartner Dataquest this month. According to the study, IBM was the worldwide leader in overall server sales, but third in Unix-server sales.