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Sun Microsystems unveils Niagara UltraSparc T2 chip

Today, Sun introduced UltraSparc T2, its next generation of Niagara processors. The chip will be part of Sun Fire systems, expected out later this year.

Today, Sun Microsystems Inc. unveiled the UltraSparc T2 processor, which is smaller than its T1 predecessor but has twice as many computing threads.

For more on UltraSparc:
Sun chips away at UltraSparc server line

Sun releases UltraSparc T1 chip

Codenamed Niagara 2, the UltraSparc T2 is a 65-nanometer chip. It has eight cores, each of which feature eight threads, for a total of 64 computing threads. Released in 2005, the UltraSparc T1 was 90 nanometers and featured 32 computing threads.

It's a very impressive chip in terms of its absolute performance.
Nathan Brookwood,
principal analystInsight 64

As with the T1, Sun boasts that its chip is more energy efficient than those of the competition. It claims the UltraSparc T2 expends fewer than two watts per thread, while IBM's Power6 and Intel Corp.'s Xeon each consume north of 20 watts per thread, according to Sun.

Sun Fire server systems containing the UltraSparc T2 chip are expected out before the end of the year in 1U and 2U rack-mount configurations.

Nathan Brookwood, the founder and principal analyst for research firm Insight 64, a consulting firm based in Saratoga, Calif., said he's impressed with the upgrade.

"The performance of this chip is coming close to two times that of the original Niagara processor, and that's on a variety of workloads," Brookwood said. "It's doing that with a relatively modest increase of power. All in all, it's a very impressive chip in terms of its absolute performance and its performance per watt."

Brookwood pointed out that the UltraSparc T2 has topped two benchmark charts from the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC), one for floating-point and another for integer operations. He added that for the T2 to be most productive, the application workload would have to be "amenable to multithreading, and a lot of commercial workloads are."

Still, this chip isn't for everyone. Brookwood said applications that are primarily linear – such as some simulation software as well as word processing and spreadsheet-like applications – would not be an appropriate choice for the T2. Nor would it be right for users basing their IT strategy on Windows, Brookwood said, because UltraSparc-based servers don't run Windows. They run only Solaris and Linux, and Brookwood said the T2 will run best on Solaris.

The new 1.4 GHz chip, however, does require new motherboards, so UltraSparc T2 is not a pin-compatible upgrade. T2 also includes the following features:

  • T2 has a memory cache of 4 megabytes (MB), up from the 3 MB in T1.
  • The processor has one floating point unit per core (or eight per chip), compared with just one for the entire T1 chip; an increased number of floating points improves the processing performance for certain kinds of arithmetic calculations.
  • T2 has eight encryption engines compared with one in T1.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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