The new UltraSPARCs are in, and if the early buzz is any indication, they are the chips to beat for anyone looking to wean themselves off the x86.
The UltraSPARC T2, aka the Niagara 2, is the first to sport eight cores, with eight threads per core. So not only does it offer the capability to run up to 64 operating systems on a single piece of silicon, it maintains the highest energy efficiency per thread for any commodity processor on the market.
Sun has big plans for the T2, according to CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Not only will it serve as a general purpose chip for Sun's traditional customers in the finance, oil and telecom fields, but the company will release the core design and test suites through the GNU public license. That, combined with the now open Solaris OS, should create a vibrant hardware and software developer environment.
The T2 blows the multicore game wide open, according to InformationWeek's Alexander Wolfe. Even though the chip won't find its way to OEMs and retail users, it is key to Sun's "Throughput Computing" strategy, aimed at maximizing throughput with multithreading. The idea is to make high-end servers a must-have, pulling the entire industry toward Sun's specialty and away from the commodity hardware being pushed by HP, IBM and Dell.
The multithreading is cool enough, says OSGeek. But even cooler is the floating point unit found on each core of the T2. The problem with the T1 is that it had only one unit for the whole chip, leaving floating-point tasks in the lurch. The T2 also has a cryptographic processor on each core, two PCIe ports and integrated 10 GbE.
Initial shipments will come in two versions: 1.2 GHz and 1.4 GHz. My guess is that just about everybody will go right to the 1.4.