Sun upgrades Sparc chip, touts performance gains

Sun Microsystems on Tuesday released its UltraSparc IV+ processor, the first upgrade to its Sparc chip line in 18 months, and unveiled five new servers. Customers who upgrade their hardware will see a performance gain that's nearly twice as fast as the UltraSparc IV chip. In many cases, customers will be able make the change with a card swap.

This chip is built with 90-nanometer process technology, compared to the 130-nanometer used for the Sparc IV. The 90-nanometer manufacturing processes makes it possible for chipmakers to put more transistors into a smaller space, which improves chip performance and power needs.

"This is a new chip, not a speed bump," said Bob McGaughey, vice president of product development at Sun.

Sun said it also improved performance of the 1.5-GHz, dual core chip by integrating 2MB of Level 2 cache into it. It also includes 32MB of Level 3 cache on the chip board, which is a new feature.

Although UltraSparc III and IV customers can upgrade their current hardware, Sun also introduced a new server line built around the new chip. The lineup starts with the V490, a four-processor system; the V890, which can offer up to eight processors; the E2900 and E4900, both of which are 12-way systems but offer different feature sets; and the E6900, which can support as many as 24 processors.

Pricing ranges from US$30,995 to US$180,000 for the new systems.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata said the new chip "doesn't fundamentally change UltraSparc and Sun's positioning in any way. It's the type of incremental upgrade that computer makers sort of have to deliver."

He noted that IBM is expected to upgrade its Power processor later this year.

One Sun user, Jim Stock, the CIO of the Landrum Holding Company, is using UltraSparc III chips to run banking application software from the Kirchman Corp. and said any upgrades would require certification and testing by his application provider.

Stock said he's been happy with the performance of the UltraSparc III, but until his applications are certified "there is really no reason for us to look at it."

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