IBM, Sun Tweak RISC Strategies

The chip makers are stressing their core technologies as they look to broaden adoption of their products.

IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. are taking diverging paths to the same goal: broader adoption of their respective RISC chip technologies.

IBM, in an effort to expand the reach of its Power processor platform, last week licensed the chip architecture and sold a portion of its PowerPC 400 line to Applied Micro Circuits Corp.

The $227 million deal with San Diego-based AMCC illustrates IBMs strategy—first laid out three weeks ago—to grow the Power platform, allowing it to expand more quickly into every kind of computer device, from small handhelds to the largest supercomputers.

The deal, which is expected to close later this quarter, will enable AMCC to market the three chips in the embedded market as well as build new products based on the Power architecture.

IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will retain the core technology of the processors and some digital video products that are also part of the PowerPC 400 family. IBM will continue manufacturing the processors for AMCC.

Such partnerships are crucial to getting Power-based technology into areas in which it doesnt currently play, IBM officials said.

Separately, Sun last week said it is scaling back, discontinuing development of its UltraSPARC V and Gemini chips to focus on its UltraSPARC III and IV processors and on two future chips code-named Niagara and Rock.

Expanding and contracting

Top RISC chip vendors take different routes with their products

  • IBM Sells three PowerPC 400 processors and licenses the Power architecture to Applied Micro Circuits
  • Sun Discontinues development of the UltraSPARC V and Gemini chips and focuses on the UltraSPARC IV platform

The UltraSPARC V and Gemini lines no longer fit in with the Santa Clara, Calif., companys 2-year-old Throughput Computing strategy, said Marc Tremblay, Sun fellow, vice president and chief architect for Suns processor and network products group. Sun also had been working on the UltraSPARC V for several years, and company officials wanted to shorten the development time for processors.

The UltraSPARC V also featured a new design that would have forced users to make the transition from the earlier SPARC platforms, which ran counter to the Throughput Computing strategy. The Gemini was a two-core processor that was based on Suns older UltraSPARC II architecture.

Instead, Sun expects to boost the capabilities of its UltraSPARC III, IIIi and IV chips. The UltraSPARC IV is shipping already, and the UltraSPARC IV+, built on a 90-nanometer process, will ship within a year.

/zimages/4/28571.gifUltraSPARC is not dead yet, Suns top microprocessor executive says. Click here to read more.

Michael Hodges, manager of systems services at the University of Hawaii, said he applauds the changes Sun is making in refocusing its SPARC development efforts and in moving into the lower-cost x86 space with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor.

"Sun is most definitely retrenching, and that is a good thing," said Hodges in Honolulu. "I see many similarities between Sun and that 80s stellar company, [Digital Equipment Corp.], except that Sun has more options than DEC, given its [Java Enterprise System] middleware stack."

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