Sun Will Delay Rock Until 2009

Company officials say they wanted to ensure that all the technologies in the multicore chip were ready to go.

SAN FRANCISCO-Sun Microsystems' new multicore Rock processor won't be ready to roll until 2009.

After Sun engineers on Feb. 6 spent part of the International Solid State Circuits Conference here explaining some of the technical details and new innovations behind its upcoming UltraSPARC microprocessor, company officials announced that they were delaying the release of the new chip until the second half of 2009.

When Sun first began publicly talking about Rock in 2007, officials said the chip would be ready for market by the second half of 2008. In August, Sun released the UltraSPARC 2 chip, previously called "Niagara 2," and since then has been releasing new systems built around the multicore processor.

Marc Tremblay, Sun fellow and chief technology officer of its Microelectronics Division, told eWEEK that Sun decided to push back the release of the Rock chip to ensure that all the technology the company had invested in worked and could be optimized for both hardware and software.

While Sun will delay this next-generation UltraSPARC processor, it will soon release an updated, scalable version of the Niagara 2 called "Victoria Falls," designed for two-socket systems. At the same show, Intel officials described some of the technology behind the new Itanium chip, code-named Tukwila, which competes against Sun's UltraSPARC line in the high end of the market.

In papers released at the show, Sun engineers described Rock as a 16-core processor that will have a clock speed of 2.3GHz. The new UltraSPARC, which will be built on a 65-nanometer manufacturing process, uses the company's CMT (chip multithreading technology), and the entire chip will contain 32 instructional threads. The chip has also been optimized for both single and multithreaded applications.

Rock is being designed with parallel computing in mind. Tremblay said Sun hopes the release of the chip will help spur ISVs to create more software applications that can take full advantage of the chip's CMT abilities. While the chip will offer a total of 32 main instructional threads, it has also been equipped with two additional "helper" threads that will not only pregrab instructions but also retire older instructions and clear the memory in order to speed up performance.

"What these other threads do is move ahead of the main threads and prepare the instructions for when the main threads catch up," Tremblay said.

Rock will also contain what Tremblay called transaction memory, which allows groups of instructions to execute at the same time, leading to better performance for large database software and banking transaction applications.

This type of technology also relates back to Sun's efforts to develop more applications that are written to take advantage of parallel computing. Transaction memory has also been a favorite in universities for those looking to write the type of software that takes full advantage of parallel computing, he said.

Rock will have a maximum thermal envelope of about 250 watts, which Tremblay said is high, but a part of the processor can be controlled by power management techniques. He said Sun is also looking at ways to air-cool the chip, which will allow it to offer the performance that the company has promised.