Sun Microsystems Inc., feeling increasing pressure from rivals as well as from recent troubles, is already touting its 1.05GHz UltraSPARC III, which is due early next year. And while it is only 100MHz faster than Suns current top-performing chip, Sun last week said the new processor will perform up to 72 percent faster on benchmark tests.
The performance gain, company officials said, comes from improved manufacturing techniques, enhanced internal buffer sizes and management, and more efficient object code generated by a new version of the Forte compiler. But at least one analyst cautioned to beware of benchmark scores.
"My understanding is that a lot of the performance comes from the new and improved compiler," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, 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."
While boasting about improved benchmark scores, Sun discounted higher marks recently posted by IBMs new 1.3GHz Power4 chip. According to Sun, IBMs scores were "unrealistic" because only one processor used a key memory cache normally shared by multiple processors, something Sun officials said does not happen in the real world.
"IBM had no choice but to disable those other CPUs since the benchmarks are based on uniprocessor performance," Brookwood said. "Sun is articulating its strategic problem, which is IBMs Power4 coming out ahead of it in performance."
Suns emphasis on benchmarks signals a shift in its marketing strategy, said Kevin Krewell, an analyst with Cahners In-Stat/MDR, in Sunnyvale, Calif.
"Theyve always downplayed benchmarks since the release of the UltraSPARC III," Krewell said. "It looks like theyve done a 180-degree flip on this."
The new aggressive strategy was spurred by the problems caused by the Palo Alto, Calif, companys six-month-plus delay in releasing the 900MHz UltraSPARC III this year, as well as the release of new processors from Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp. and IBM.
"The release of the UltraSPARC III was a couple of years late, then they had troubles getting a 900MHz version out," Krewell said. "The Power4 is more of a next-generation product, and Sun does not want to lose the perception war that the Power4 is more advanced than the UltraSPARC III."
Sun is the third-largest overall server vendor worldwide and the largest supplier of Unix-based servers, according to third-quarter results from Gartner Dataquest. IBM is the leader in overall sales.