Sun to Test Niagara Chip
Sun Microsystems has taken a step toward producing the first of its next generation of "throughput computing" processors, completing initial design of a chip code-named Niagara and preparing the first prototypes.
Analysts originally expected Sun to begin producing the first Niagara chips--a process called "taping out"--by the end of 2003, says Kevin Krewell, the editor-in-chief of The Microprocessor Report. Last summer's departure of Niagara's lead designer, Les Kohn, and a switch in the foundry used to manufacture the processors may have set back Niagara's schedule, he says.
A Sun spokesperson on Wednesday confirmed the company has made progress in its development and will soon produce the first prototypes.
The executive vice president of Sun's Scalable Systems Group, David Yen, recently said his company expects to ship Niagara systems by the beginning of 2006. This is the 2005 time frame the company had predicted when it announced the Niagara processor early last year.
But Krewell says that with tape-out occurring now, Sun might still be able to deliver beta systems to customers' by early 2005 and actually ship Niagara systems by 2005.
The troubled server company recently focused more resources on its throughput computing efforts after killing off two of its planned processors: the UltraSparc V and a dual-core processor, code-named Gemini. This move is expected to accelerate the release of Niagara, Yen says.
Sun, however, is sticking to the early 2006 date for Niagara system shipments.
"Right now, more than ever, we're trying to be conservative about the expectations we set," says Sabrina Guttman, a Sun spokesperson.
Niagara is based on a concept created by Kohn's company, Afara Websystems, which Sun acquired in 2002. Designed to be a network-intensive processor with on-chip networking and security capabilities, Niagara will have eight processor cores. Each core will be capable of running four series of application instructions, called threads, simultaneously.
"It really is taking the idea of multicore multithreading to a much more radical approach than everybody else," Krewell says. He predicts the chip will appeal to users running multithreaded Web services applications.
"If you look at where Sun is targeting this part, which is Web services.... it's a very thread-rich environment, and having a processor that is also thread-rich seems like a natural thing," Krewell adds.