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.