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Sun looking to light Sparc with UltraSparc IV+ chip

Hoping to keep up with IBM and HP in the Unix server space, Sun unveiled the UltraSparc IV+ chip, which it said boasts twice the performance over the previous generation -- for the same price.

Hoping to keep its Sparc chip technology relevant in the face of growing competition in the Unix server space from chips such as IBM's Power and Hewlett-Packard/Intel's Itanium, Sun Microsystems Inc. unveiled the UltraSparc IV+. Sun said this new chip will feature twice the performance capabilities within the same power envelope and footprint at half the power usage as UltraSparc IV -- without a price hike.

Sun said the 1.5 GHz UltraSparc IV+ chip delivers a five-fold performance increase over UltraSparc III. It is available immediately for customers purchasing Sun Fire V490, V890, E2900, E4900 and E6900 boxes.

The move comes just a week after Sun unveiled its Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chip-powered Galaxy line.

It's been a rough go of things for Sun in the Unix space as of late; its share of the marketplace fell from 38% to 33% in the second quarter of 2005, according to Gartner Inc. But the release of UltraSparc IV+ is a clear sign that Sun is doing everything it can to keep its existing customer base in the fold.

Charles King, principal analyst for Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Research, said it appears Sun is "coming out swinging" against IBM and its Power line, which he said has been trouncing Sun for the past two years.

"The fact that they are doubling performance within the same footprint, for the same price and using half the power is something big," King said. "The basic message is, 'We are alive and well' and that Sparc is still a viable and innovative platform."

Sun said these new offerings deliver the industry's only "on the fly" upgrade path that allows customers to use the binary compatibility of the UltraSPARC microprocessor and the Solaris operating system. According to Sun, Dell is "de-committing" to Itanium, and the impending end of life of Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX line has signaled the start of a two-horse race between Sparc and Power.

For more information:

IBM grabs lead in Unix server revenue

Sun hopes to gain new ground with Galaxy line

Sun is touting its upgrading capabilities in relation to IBM, saying it costs half as much to upgrade with Sparc as it does with an IBM system, and that these new Sun Fire servers offer better price/performance than servers using IBM's Power5 processors and IBM AIX operating system.

King said UltraSparc IV+ will allow Sun to leapfrog the competition in the price/performance game. But with the expected release of Power5+ sometime before the end of this year, don't expect Sun to sustain that edge for long.

"Every vendors' first order of business is to please their existing customer base, and doubling performance for the same price will make Sun's existing customer base really happy," King said. "These new chips will be welcomed with open arms by Sun's customers … [but] I don't imagine a lot of new customers are going to go to Sun just because of this new performance jump."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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