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Sun Revs Up UltraSparc Line

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By Gretchen Hyman

Sun Microsystems Tuesday renewed its commitment to the UltraSparc family of processor chips and outlined a strategic “road map” for its UltraSparc product rollout.

The new 1.2GHz IV processor will be built on copper interconnect technology at 0.13 microns, while the UltraSparc V should zoom along at 3GHz.

According to information released prior to the unveiling of Sun’s road map by General Manager David Yen at Sun’s offices in San Francisco, the successor to the UltraSparc III, which was released in Fall of 2001, will be released in early 2003.

The UltraSparc IV will be compatible with all the UltraSparc platforms, and according to Sun comes with a significantly improved interior architecture. The IV will be offered at speeds beginning at 1.2GHz, the maximum speed of the UltraSparc III, and will eventually graduate to 2GHz a year after its initial release. It was also reported that the IV will be built on copper interconnect technology with a 0.13 micron manufacturing process.

According to Yen, the UltraSparc family of processors are part of a spectrum of processors, not just a sequential order of products.

Sun’s processor strategy comes a time when number one chip making rival Intel is on the verge of adding a new Itanium processor to its line of wildly popular Pentium processors.

While Sun has been criticized for the slow rollout of successive UltraSparc versions, the processors are considered a primary component of Sun’s overall product portfolio and continue to maintain a respectable level of market share in the Unix server market.

Sun began bragging about the UltraSparc IV at the release of the UltraSparc III as being a split personality processor chip able to switch between different modes of processor demand depending on the type of work the computer is being used for at any given time.

The chip will include the capacity for instruction-level parallelism and thread-level parallelism, according to earlier reports, which will enable the UltraSparc IV to combine the functions of rival Intel and IBM chips into one single processor that can modify itself between the demand for heavy computing or more simple everyday business functions.

Sun’s product line road map also revealed that the UltraSparc V will be released in the early part of 2005 and will first be offered at 1.8GHz speeds with the capacity to expand to 3.0GHz or higher.

Sun will also develop mid-range UltraSparc derivatives that will include the UltraSparc IIIi at 1.1GHz and growing to 1.6GHz, and the UltraSparc Vi, with speeds of 1.1GHz to 2GHz.

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