Fujitsu’s Aggressive SPARC Roadmap

SPARC64 chips will hit 3.0 GHz by 2005, 5.0 GHz by 2006

As a developer of SPARC-based systems that run the Solaris operating environment, Fujitsu Technology Solutions Inc. has long labored in the shadow of Sun Microsystems Inc. This in spite of the fact that Fujitsu markets an implementation of SPARC—called SPARC64—that is arguably superior to Sun’s UltraSPARC III chip.

Last week, Fujitsu announced the availability of new models of its PrimePower Unix servers. In addition, the computing giant unveiled its roadmap for the future of SPARC64, setting an ambitious agenda that will see its chip hit speeds of 2.4 GHz by early 2004.

Sun originally invented SPARC (Scalable Processor ARChitecture) and handed the specification over to a standards body in 1989. Today, SPARC defines an open set of technical specifications that a vendor or organization can license to produce its own SPARC microprocessors.

Fujitsu announced 1.35 GHz versions of its fifth generation SPARC64 in October (http://www.esj.com/news/article.asp?EditorialsID=291). At the time, it introduced two new PrimePower servers—the PrimePower 900 (two to 16 processors) and the PrimePower 2500 (eight to 128 processors)—that would buttress its existing PrimePower 1500 (four to 32 processors) system. Last week it announced formal availability of its new PrimePower systems.

For the moment, SPARC64 is still a single-core processor, says Richard McCormack, VP of product marketing at Fujitsu. It will be available as a dual-core chip in its sixth-generation, which should be available by the end of 2004. This roughly parallels the efforts of Sun and Hewlett-Packard Co., both of which have announced plans to ship dual-core versions of their flagship processors—UltraSPARC IV and PA-8800, respectively—this year. IBM Corp., which markets chips based on its Power architecture, was the first of the major vendors to deliver dual-core processors with its Power4 chips.

Fujitsu’s fifth-generation of SPARC64, which is based on a 130-micrometer process, will hit 1.62 GHz and 2.4 GHZ this year. Its sixth-generation SPARC64 architecture, which will be based on a 90-nanometer process, will debut at 2.4 GHz and should hit 3.0 GHz before it reaches the end of its usable life, sometime in mid- to late-2005.

Beginning in mid- to late-2005, McCormack says, Fujitsu will introduce its seventh-generation SPARC64 architecture, which is expected to support four processor cores on a single chip. It will also be based on a 90-nanometer process and will debut at 5.0 GHz. Fujitsu expects its seventh-generation architecture to have gas enough to get to 6.0 GHz.

Roadmaps, of course, are only as good as the PowerPoint slide in which they’re embedded. Sun, for example, encountered repeated delays getting its UltraSPARC III processor out the door: A roadmap that it released in 1998 called for it to begin shipping UltraSPARC V by early 2002. The Unix giant’s UltraSPARC IV processor has also been late.

Fujitsu’s McCormack stresses that his company has more or less met its delivery schedules in the past. “History shows we’ve been extremely reliable about hitting our milestones. I am very confident that we can continue this, however some of the innovations and the technical leaps, such as going to 90 nanometer and also going to two CPUs in a single core, that’s a very big technological leap, but we are very confident that we can meet those milestones.”

Interviewed in October, Richard Patridge, VP of enterprise servers with consultancy D.H. Brown, suggested that Fujitsu’s new fifth-generation SPARC64 chips were faster than Sun’s flagship 1.2 GHz UltraSPARC IIIs. “I believe that Fujitsu is always slightly ahead of UltraSPARC, and I believe that the next generation has a pretty good lead against what Sun is currently shipping in its UltraSparc 3.”

Sun has pledged to deliver UltraSPARC IV in late 2003 or early 2004—or at about the same time that Fujitsu has said that it will deliver its sixth-generation of SPARC64.

About the Author

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