Sun Unveils Faster, Cooler UltraSPARC

New processor runs at 1.2GHz.

Sun Microsystems Inc. announced new versions of its UltraSPARC processors that boast faster clock speeds but cooler operating temperatures.

Sun's new UltraSPARC III will run at 1.2GHz—almost 200MHz faster than the company's current top-of-the-line 1.05GHz UltraSPARC III chips.

The new UltraSPARCs are based on a 130-nanometer process, so they require less power (27 watts) than chips based on the current 150-nanometer process. As a point of comparison, Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor currently dissipates 130 watts of power.

The result, says Nathan Brookwood, a principal with microprocessor consultancy InSight64, is an UltraSPARC III processor at a competitive clock-speed that also runs cooler than some of its rivals. Moreover, Brookwood points out, Sun's high-end SunFire servers—the largest of which, the SunFire 15K, scales to 106 processors—can also be populated with the new chips.

"This should improve the performance of all of Sun's UltraSPARC line for computationally intensive apps, [and for Sun's existing servers] it's a relatively smooth upgrade," Brookwood asserts.

Sun expects that servers based on the new UltraSPARC III processors will be available by early 2003.

In recent years, the Unix kingpin's UltraSPARC architecture has been bested in single processor benchmarks by the PA-RISC and Power architectures from Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp., respectively.

The faster, cooler UltraSPARC processors still "won't be close to the uni-processor performance of some of the competitive designs from IBM and some of the others," Brookwood concedes. "On the other hand, people don't buy Sun systems based strictly on single processor performance."

Instead, he points out, Sun's Unix systems scale very well, have demonstrated proven reliability, and are popular with ISVs. "Clearly, the market doesn't rate strictly on performance. If they did, we'd all be using Alpha systems instead," he concludes. "Sun is the market share leader, [and] with improvements like this, their users will continue to stay loyal to them."

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.