Sun Microsystems has outlined plans for two latest processor families which will use multithreading techniques to boost the performance of Sun's servers.
The chip families, called Niagara and Rock, will both cram several processor cores on a single piece of silicon, allowing them to execute potentially dozens of threads simultaneously.
Niagara will be geared towards network-intensive applications, said David Yen, executive vice-president of Sun's processor and network products group.
It is expected to be used in Sun's blade servers, where it could boost performance by as much as 15 times compared with Sun's UltraSparc III.
Chips in the Rock family will use their multithreading capabilities to handle a variety of tasks more quickly including computation - for running a databases and ERP systems, for example - and other types of work such as encryption.
The Niagara family is due some time in 2005 or 2006.
Yen argued that today's processors will not be able to keep pace with future volumes of network traffic, especially as more devices become network-enabled.
If RFID tags are deployed widely, for example, organisations will be overwhelmed by the volumes of traffic flooding into their datacentres.
The Niagara family will address the problem by dedicating some of its threads to processing network packets.
Solaris 10, an upgrade to Sun's operating system due later this year, will be able to recognise different packet types and direct them to the appropriate thread for processing.
"We are not getting into the network processor business. It's a general-purpose, multithreaded processor. We are simply taking advantage of the existence of multiple hardware threads to sort out the requirements of different types of tasks. We can even dedicate extra silicon to do some computing jobs like cryptography," Yen said.
Sun's UltraSparc competes primarily with IBM's Power 4 processor and Intel's Itanium and Xeon chips. Sun said the forthcoming processors will provide evidence that its research and development spending is paying off. It will also be hoping that they help boost its revenues, which were flat last year after two years of decline.
Niagara and Rock will be Sun's second and third generations of multicore processors.
The first generation includes the UltraSparc 4, which puts two UltraSparc III cores on one piece of silicon. The chip will be available in servers next month and will offer twice the performance of the UltraSparc III.
James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service