Sun Hopes to Rise, Set on New UltraSPARC T1 Chip

Sun Microsystems unveiled its updated UltraSPARC T1 processor this week, touting multi-threading technology that cuts power use for ecological and economic benefit.

Sun said the new chip, formerly code-named “Niagara,” will power its new line of Sun Fire servers, to be released by the end of the year. The T1 chips use the company’s “CoolThreads” multi-threading technology to take advantage of capabilities in the Solaris 10 operating system, Sun said.

The company compared the energy use of its new chips — a light-bulb-like 70 watts — to doubled power consumption from competition including Intel’s Xeon and IBM’s Power processors.

“It’s time the technology industry took a stand — tripling your datacenter performance shouldn’t mean tripling your power bill and needing more coal-fired power plants,” read a statement from Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz.

Solar Power

While it has seen its position among server makers slip, Sun seemed hopeful that its new T1 and Sun Fire servers will gain market share, as well as satisfy existing Sun Solaris and UltraSPARC customers in need of an upgrade.

Sun said the new T1 chips, with a processor clock speed of 1.2 GHz, would have eight cores, each with four processing threads, giving the chips the ability to run 32 threads simultaneously for parallel computing and “no waiting.”

“The chip saves energy, while increasing system throughput and employs Sun’s radical CMT processor architecture to keep pace with the multi-threaded application environment of the Internet,” the company said.

Chips at Work

Gartner research Vice President Martin Reynolds told TechNewsWorld that the new chips, which have more threads on a single chip than any predecessors, will address the issue of new, faster chips that cannot be kept busy.

“What it means is there’s always going to be work for the processors to do,” Reynolds said.

The analyst added that even if all 32 threads are not all working at the same time, the fact that there are more of them gives the chip a statistical edge using simpler, more efficient chip technology.

“In places where this processor works well, it’s going to provide a big advantage over everybody else,” Reynolds said, adding that the chip also features high bandwidth. He indicated that servers running parallel applications, or work servers, were a likely place for the new Sun chips.

New Area

Reynolds said the new T1 represents “kind of a new area” in that the processors are not necessarily efficient with instructions, but make up for it in sheer numbers with the 32 threads.

The chips may help Sun get into new markets because of their price/performance advantage, the analyst observed. He said they would also serve as good replacements for older Sun solutions that would otherwise represent potential market losses.

Green Hardware

Sun played up the efficiency advantages of the new T1 processors, declaring that if the entry-level servers sold in the last three years were replaced with T1-powered machines, it would represent the elimination of more than 11 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of 1 million SUV automobiles.

The company also pointed to business reasons for the new chips, citing rising temperature control and power costs in the datacenter.

“With the introduction of this breakthrough discovery, Sun is sending a message to the industry that the problems associated with power and cooling are just as important as keeping up with performance,” said a statement from IDC vice president Vernon Turner.

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