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Here Comes The Opteron Sun

Sun Microsystems is close to unveiling a major effort to market a family of powerful 64-bit machines based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor, in a move that could be crucial to the struggling Sun's future.
After toying with some relatively minor cooperative ventures involving Sun's software and AMD's 64-bit processors in recent months, Sun is said to be ready to make a commitment to the Opteron. The move will raise questions about a future roadmap for Sun's workhorse SPARC family of processors.

Informed sources said an announcement could come any day now. It's no secret that the two companies have been cooperating. Last summer the firms announced they would work together to develop native Java for the Opteron using Windows and Linux platforms. That effort is scheduled to bear fruit in the form of Java 2 Platform, Standard Edition (J2SE) v 1.5 for release next summer.

Sun isn't unfamiliar with 64-bit processors; its SPARC line features 64-bit machines. A deal with Sun marketing and utilizing the Opteron would be a powerful endorsement for AMD in its uphill battle to compete with arch-competitor Intel's 64-bit Itanium line.

The key underlying issue in the cooperative Sun-AMD venture is that the 64-bit Opteron can run 32-bit legacy software in native mode. If that capability is as important to the computer users of the world as AMD says it is, then Sun someday could be addressing a whole new world of computer users who will be more interested in using Opteron-based Sun machines than SPARC machines. Sun has reported declining sales in recent quarters.

The Sun processors--likely to be offered in multiple processor server and workstation configurations--are expected to use Solaris and Linux operating systems. Microsoft is working on a version of its Windows for the Opteron. In developing its 64-bit machines--AMD has another 64-bit model in its Athlon family for gamers and desktop users--the company focused on extending the x86 instruction set architecture.