Sun moves into multicore chips arena

Sun Microsystems is moving into multicore chips, promising users processors that appear to differ from anything from rivals IBM...

Sun Microsystems is moving into multicore chips, promising users processors that appear to differ from anything from rivals IBM and Intel.

The company showed off designs for its core UltraSPARC line, as well as a class of chip that combines multiple processor cores on a single piece of silicon.

This latest technology came as a response to criticism from analysts and competitors that Sun's processors have started to lag in performance. To address those criticisms, Sun decided to provide more details on its future plans, including the multicore chips which, it believed, would pose a large challenge to IBM and Intel.

Sun faces some tough competition in the world of 64-bit computing, as it does battle against IBM's Power4 processor and Intel's Itanium chip.

All three companies are chasing a lucrative part of the server market that uses 64-bit chips to power systems running databases, business software and scientific computing programs.

While Sun leads in market share, analysts have praised the performance of IBM's Power4 chip and see Intel as an oncoming threat.

To address the competition facing its high-end servers, Sun will release its first UltraSPARC IV processor later this year and will include in it a pair of technologies designed to boost performance.

The UltraSPARC IV will be the first in its line to include two processor cores on a single chip and to support multithreaded software. Like IBM, Sun has been able to shrink the size of its chips to the point where it can place two processor cores in the same space where before it had only one. These processor cores will then be able to handle multiple software threads, or sequences of software instructions being executed by the processor.

This pairing of multiple cores and multithreading will help Sun's servers do more than double the work of current systems. In particular, users should see better performance from applications that have been written to take advantage of the multithreading technology.

Sun has long made SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) servers that spread software loads across numerous processors and is looking for the multicore chips to provide a miniature version of such systems.

Sun will follow the UltraSPARC IV chip with its dual-core UltraSPARC V chip in 2005.

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