Sunus new chip sparks up performance race

by Hinesh Jethwani    Oct 13, 2003

Sun Microsystems announced today that its latest UltraSparc IV processor will outrace counterparts by a factor of 1.6 to 2.

The breakthrough has fired up the highly competitive CPU market, with chipmakers like Intel, IBM, Advanced Micro Devices and others, facing the heat.

At this weekůs Microprocessor Forum in California, the company will announce that it expects to begin making UltraSparc IV later this year, debuting it at a speed of 1.2GHz.
The chip is forecasted to be ready by June 2004.

UltraSparc IV packs two UltraSparc III processor cores onto a single slice of silicon. IBM used similar technology to make its Power 4 processor, and Intel plans to follow suit with its Xeon and Itanium chips. The new chip is compatible with similar sockets, like its earlier counterpart UltraSparc III, allowing customers to upgrade their systems easily.

As Sun is remodeling itself and adopting new strategies to keep afloat, the new UltraSparc IV is expected to retain Sunůs most loyal customers, and at the same time also persuade more people to switch to Sun.

Sunůs market was challenged by the arrival of a series of powerful processors from Intel, and the company was forced to abandon its UltraSparc-only approach by using “x86″ processors such as Xeon and Itanium from Intel and Athlon from AMD.

The latest performance figures compare computing tasks running on a 1.2GHz UltraSparc IV and a 1.2GHz UltraSparc III. The study indicates that with UltraSparc IV, users should expect to achieve a double throughput at the processor level.

The first UltraSparc IV will be built using a 130-nanometer manufacturing process, but a newer version expected next year will use a 90-nanometer technique, Sun said.

Texas Instruments is helping Sun in engineering the new UltraSparc chips.

Sun plans to incorporate new reliability features into the 90-nanometer chip. Add-ons such as a circuit to accelerate encryption and networking will be offered in later versions.

The 90-nanometer manufacturing process will use a technology called ’strained siliconů to extract more speed out of the chips. In addition, it will employ a process called ‘low-k dielectriců, pushing the length of a gate down to 37 nanometers. This will allow each transistor in the chip to switch 50 percent faster than a regular 130-nanometer chip.

Sunůs chip design plans have changed dramatically since its acquisition of Afara Websystems, a start-up that employed some original UltraSparc I designers.

Tags: Microchip, Sun