While Apple Refreshes, the “fastest processor in the world” was released

Niagara T2 Die

While Apple had a good day for press with their new product releases, Sun made a big announcement.

Today, Sun released the Niagara T2. They made some bold claims like, “The Worlds First True System on a Chip”, or “The Worlds Fastest Microprocessor”. I think those claims are a tad shady. However, if you look past the hype, there really is something there.

The chip has 8 cores that are each capable of 64 threads! Each core now has an FPU (compared to the 1 FPU on the Niagara T1) and 4MB of cache. There is also hardware support for crypto, virtualization, and I/O (2 10 GB network interfaces are on ide!). This is an impressive chip. Currently the top-end for Intel is quad-core, and they didn’t put as much effort into handling as many threads in hardware (hyperthreading supports 2 threads, compared to the 64 by Sun). If you had the right balance of cpu, memory throughput, and I/O (a network routing app, for instance)… you could imagine actually having 512 active threads running on this CPU. Amazing!

One thing was nagging at me, though. It has been a while since I looked at a Sparc, and I wasn’t sure if these were 32 bit cores or 64 bit cores. The only thing the site said was that the chip was UltraSPARC T2. Maybe they were using a 32 bit design to fit all of the cores on the die. I did a little research, and sure enough, the cores are the top-of-the line 64 bit cores. Quite amazing! The last time I had an UltraSPARC in production was in 1997 when they just came out. We used them for web-servers at four11.com, but only in 32 bit mode.

If Sun pushes these systems, they might have a chance at keeping their business alive. I like their technology, but sometimes that doesn’t win. There is a tremendous amount of momentum on Intel and Linux in the data center space. Also, my last experience with the Asterisk server taught me that getting Solaris up is still a heavy time investment. So, they are on the radar, but still not worth betting on yet.

Still, this is another example of competition creating a win for the industry. Lets see what they do with their advantage while they have it.

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5 Responses to While Apple Refreshes, the “fastest processor in the world” was released

  1. Ryan M. says:

    If these chips come anywhere near their potential it should be pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind running a dual-proc box that supports 1k “simultaneous” threads and would give me a SPECint around 150…

    My only question is what’s the point of releasing the chip under GPL? How many people (or even companies) have a 65nm fab to do anything with it?

  2. dru says:

    Yeah, dual-proc would be interesting. I think that is now possible with the new T2 chip. The earlier chip was not designed for SMP.

    About the GPL. That is just hype/publicity. Sun has always licensed their designs to other manufacturers and avoided having their own fab. The fact that the design is now open under a viral license that forces the modifier to give their design changes to Sun… is a non-event.

  3. Open hardware is becoming increasingly relevant. One reason why Sun chose to GPL the core is to get a wider acceptance. You don’t need to license from Sun to produce this chip. There is no paperwork involved. Just download the VHDL/Verilog and go.

    Also, modifications to the architecture are also released to the community. So, for example, if I download and alter the T2 for my own purposes, I’m obligated by the terms of the GPL to make my alterations available in source form. Now, someone else can take my processor and run wild with it as well.

  4. As seen in http://www.sun.com/processors/UltraSPARC-T2/specs.xml each core is only capable of 8 thread. It states “Up to 8 cores, up to 64 threads per processor” (not per core).

  5. Jared Norman says:

    Only required to release your changes in source form if you distribute!

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