Sun spices up chip line with UltraSPARC IIIi

Sun spices up chip line with UltraSPARC IIIi

Sun Microsystems Inc. unveiled a new chip Tuesday designed to pack more processing power into a smaller physical space for its lower-end server line.

Code-named Jalapeno, the new UltraSPARC IIIi microprocessor will fit into Sun servers that have between one and four processors, the company said in a statement. The chip highlights large Level 1 and 1M-byte Level 2 on-chip memory caches.

When Sun designed the UltraSPARC IIIi, it tried to bring off-chip subsystems onto the main processor chip -- something that simplifies the system design and reduces the number of components. Texas Instruments Inc. will manufacture the chips using its 0.13 micron technology and copper interconnect process. The chip range will start above 1GHz while keeping power consumption below 60 watts, the company said.

Sun is expected to introduce the UltraSPARC IIIi in servers sometime next year, according to a source familiar with the company's plans. The vendor will release a two-way server and a four-way server -- code-named Chalupa -- as replacements to its Netra line.

The chip could help Sun compete against servers using Intel Corp. processors and Microsoft Corp. software in the low-end space. Sun is looking to create powerful servers but keep costs low to match such Wintel systems.

One analyst looks for the chip price to be relatively low despite it being able to make a small server running Sun's Solaris operating system relatively powerful.

"You can't afford to put a thousand-dollar chip in a thousand-dollar workstation," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, California. "It is following on what they did with the UltraSPARC II chips."

Bringing the Level 2 cache onto its chips was a big step for Sun that will help it compete in lower-end markets, the analyst said. Moving the Level 2 cache onto the surface of the chip helps boost performance by allowing the processor to retrieve data more quickly, and has been used by Sun's competitors for some time.

Sun maintains an advantage over Dell in the market for 64-bit systems because its processor has proven itself in the market, Brookwood said; Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor began to appear only earlier this year. The UltraSPARC IIIi could widen that advantage for Sun in the short term, but as Intel's 64-bit chips gain acceptance they could make life tough for Sun, Brookwood said.

As Intel rolls out a new version of its 64-bit processor next year, named McKinley, the challenge to Sun will likely increase, he said.

"The 64-bit fence is now being breached," Brookwood said.

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