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Sun responds to 64-bit challenge

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A range of microprocessors offering up to 32-way symmetric multiprocessing on a single die is being developed by Sun Microsystems for release in 2005. Dubbed the H-Series, these microprocessors will provide up to 15 times more performance than existing SPARC devices while consuming much less power and costing far less.

The first device in the series will be released in early in 2005. Going under the codename of Gemini, this dual-threaded chip will be built using a 130 nm process to deliver twice the throughput of the company’s UltraSPARC III.

That will be followed later in the same year by a 90 nm version featuring up to eight cores on a chip. Codenamed Niagara, these low-cost processors could create a 32-way symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) system by running four threads simultaneously on each core.

The H-Series devices will essentially provide a server on a chip, and are being designed for use in Infiniband-based server systems. They are based on technology acquired by Sun in July last year from start-up firm Afara WebSystems. Afara designed a simplified UltraSPARC II core which it used to create a 340mm2 CPU featuring eight cores capable of running four separate threads.

The new processors should be effective in splitting up software threads and handling web server applications running on blade servers, according to Sun. “The chips should also work well with Java-based applications, which are well suited for multi-threading technologies,” said David Yen, executive vice president in Sun's processor and network products group.

Sun revealed its plans in response to product announcements by IBM and Intel, as well as stock market speculation that Sun might not be able to compete against its rivals. Just one day before Sun’s announcement, IBM said that it plans to ship its Power5, dual-core, 64-bit server processor in 2004. Meanwhile Intel is to supply a dual core version of its 64-bit Itanium processor in 2005, although it has made no mention of multithreading on this device.

All three chip firms are targeting the lucrative server market that uses 64-bit microprocessors to power systems running databases, business software and scientific computing programs. Sun is currently the market leader, but the new devices from IBM and Intel have been seen by some market analysts as a growing threat.

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