Far from doom and gloom in the RISC camp, Sun and IBM continue to fly the flag and have development roadmaps for their chips stretching years into the future. Both already have dual-core products on the market, and multicore is on the immediate horizon.
Sun, though, is coming out of a relatively quite period in SPARC development.
“Sun has been a bit mired down with little talk in terms of processor or system performance, although their new OS [Solaris 10] is a great technical achievement and seems be enjoying a rapid adoption rate by customers,” says Olds. “Sun’s Niagra project might change all this in the near future.
The not-so-subtle implication is that SPARC, POWER, PA-RISC, and MIPS are nonstandard and therefore dated computing technologies. This onslaught has claimed HP and SGI as casualties, and has certainly caused Sun to blink, if not falter.
The real news on SPARC, then, is not what’s happened recently, but what will be released early next year. Sun’s big move is the Niagara processor, which is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2006. It will have a total of eight cores on a single chip.
Sun stands to gain much from Niagra’s success. “If this works as well as they say, it will get Sun back into the performance race in a big way,” says Olds.
Not So Fast
There is no doubt that RISC is under attack from AMD and Intel. The performance gulf between the chips has largely been crossed over the past couple of years. And the public relations machine of the x86 camp is doing a fine job in marginalizing RISC via its “standard architectures” campaign. The not-so-subtle implication is that SPARC, POWER, PA-RISC, and MIPS are nonstandard and therefore dated computing technologies. This onslaught has claimed HP and SGI as casualties, and has certainly caused Sun to blink, if not falter.
For now, however, some Sun partners remain supportive to the SPARC architecture. Fujitsu, in particular, continues to sell SPARC processors in its PrimePower server line.
“The PrimePower server family was recently upgraded to support SPARC64 processors with over 2 GHz clock speeds providing additional processing power for Solaris applications,” says Richard McCormack, senior vice president, Product & Solutions Marketing, Fujitsu Computer Systems. “As a result, Fujitsu has been gaining ground in the Unix market by supporting SPARC/Solaris applications.”
And at the very heart of the modern RISC movement lies the might of IBM. Its POWER5 chip has earned kudos in the marketplace, is doing very well in the supercomputing tallies produced by top500.org, and is the foundation of almost all IBM server products. In short, IBM and its POWER processors are here for the long haul.
“Right now, IBM is clearly in the lead in the RISC field with the POWER5 processor in terms of both processor and system performance,” confirms Olds.