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Sun's Multithreaded Niagara Servers Flow

SUNNYVALE, Calif. — In a historic bid to win back a slice of the mainstream server market, Sun Microsystems Inc. will roll out the first two systems based on its multicore, multithreaded Niagara processor this week. Other computer makers likely will follow the lead Sun is taking with its CPU, which supports up to eight cores and 32 threads and will integrate PCI Express in its next iteration.

Sun said the new rack-mount systems provide more than twice the performance at half the power consumption of competing servers based on the current Intel Xeon processor. The systems deliver four times the performance/watt of IBM's p5 550 server based on the Power5+, the company said. A new Sun T2000 2U rack with a 1.2-GHz Niagara and 32 Gbytes of memory hit about 615 on the Spec J App server benchmark while consuming 325 W.

The design marks Sun's aggressive shift to using Moore's Law to drive down the cost of a compute thread rather than drive up the frequency of a single hot processor. "As the cost of a thread goes from $500 to $100 and someday to $20, the software developers will jump all over it, pushing the development of parallel apps," said Mike Splain, a Sun Technology fellow and distinguished engineer.

"Sun used to own the low-end server space before the X86 came in," said Nathan Brookwood, principal at market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.). "Now they have a chance to reclaim lost territory. The chip has compelling performance, and even more compelling performance per watt which has become a huge issue recently.

"The question is whether Sun's advantage will be enough to convince people accustomed to X86 economics and broad software availability to move into the Sun camp with its relatively proprietary processor and operating system," he added. "Historically, the proprietary guys have been losing out to industry-standard approaches."

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