Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Sun Microsystems Hardware

Sun Moves Into Commodity Silicon 236

Samrobb writes "According to Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz, Sun has decided to release its UltraSPARC T2 processor under the GPL. Schwartz writes, 'We're announcing the fastest microprocessor we've ever shipped this week — delivering 89.6 Ghz of parallel computing power on a single chip — running standard Java applications and open source OS's. Simultaneously, we've said we're entering the commodity marketplace, and opening the chip up to our competition... To add fuel to the fire, the blueprints for our UltraSPARC T2... the core design files and test suites, will be available to the open source community, via its most popular license: the GPL.'" Sun is still working on getting these released; early materials are up on
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Sun Moves Into Commodity Silicon

Comments Filter:
  • Sweet (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:11PM (#20148621)
    Finally a chip that you can run Java on.
  • by Shadowlore ( 10860 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:12PM (#20148631) Journal
    That's what I got the first time I tried loading this article on /.

    But seriously, what's the real point? Are the means to actually make one of these processors beyond 99% of companies and pretty much 99.99% of the people on the planet? What about the patenting of the process or equipment to actually make the processor?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by inzy ( 1095415 )
      it was beyond most people to own a computer in 1960

      now most people in developed countries use dozens (including embedded systems) every day, and a desktop of awesome (by 1960s standards) power can be had for a few days salary

      think big, cast aside pre-conceptions
    • FPGAs (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:21PM (#20148789)
      You, Yes, I mean YOU! can easily build your own CPU using FPGAs.

      Many FPGA houses provide free ARM cores etc for inclusion on their FPGAs. You can build an ARM-based (or other core based) device using free download tools and run it on an FPGA that costs a few bucks. To do this the licensee need to pay a heft licencing fee to ARm or whomever. Now they can also distribute GPL cores.

      But is this really useful? To use a GPL core would mean that all the rest of the chip design would have to be released too. Very few hardware builders will be prepared to release their silicon source code because that is often the only way they have of preventing mass knock-offs etc.

      • Yes, but where in Hell are you going to find an FPGA big enough/fast enough to run a full OpenSPARC implementation?

        The real advantage is two-fold. First, people become more familiar with the architecture by literally seeing what that architecture does, which means compilers optimize better for it, which means people are more likely to use SPARC. Secondly, students will use it to make derivatives and spread the SPARC architecture. There's already efforts to make a small SPARC based off a single T1 core, p
        • "Everyone ends up using it, but everyone adds their own touches to make it different/better"

          If the design is GPL then those people will have to release their own touches etc under GPL too. They'd rather have LGPL or BSD licensed cores.

          Fully commoditised hardware is going to be a very difficult thing to get hardware companies to sign up to.

          As for FPGAs... You can get a few ARM7 cores onto a single FPGA that costs less than $10 and those prices are dropping. I have no idea how complex an OpenSPARC is, but I a

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nurb432 ( 527695 )
            Except the Arm7 core will cost you more then 10 bucks in license fees, unlike opensparc.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              The ARM core is free-as-in-beer if you use it on certain FPGA parts (eg. many Actel parts). The FPGA have already paid the licensing to ARM.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by mrand ( 147739 )

            As for FPGAs... You can get a few ARM7 cores onto a single FPGA that costs less than $10 and those prices are dropping. I have no idea how complex an OpenSPARC is, but I assume it is something equivalent to an ARM9 or so and will fit in a $10-or-so FPGA.

            The hurdles are not technology, but political. Sure people want free-as-in-beer cores, but they don't want GPL cores that force them to release their design.

            Just go look at the technical specs of the thing:

   070807.1.xml []

            With specs like that, the OpenSparc T1 processor will not fit in any FPGA in existance right now, or in the next few years.
            So the hurdle is indeed technical.


        • Re:FPGAs (Score:4, Funny)

          by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @11:28PM (#20151877)

          Yes, but where in Hell are you going to find an FPGA big enough/fast enough to run a full OpenSPARC implementation?

          In the bottom of Cracker Jack boxes, 20 years from now?

      • There used to be some free tools out there long ago that would let you design the actual silicon. Not sure what ever happend to them.

        Besides, they said they are releasing the entire thing in this case so that problem is sort of moot.

    • I'm thinking China. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:24PM (#20148847)
      Depending upon how the patents (are there patents?) are handled. China has been researching it's own chip design in the past. This could be a huge push for Sun if China abandoned trying to re-invent the wheel and just started cranking out UltraSPARC's.

      Not to mention Windows not running on such, but Linux will.

      And China would have a home source of chips for their IT industry and would not have to import Intel or AMD.
    • Various options. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:32PM (#20148965) Homepage Journal
      One would be to build a simulator that is accurate at the level of silicon, so that you can cross-compile and run binaries for this CPU on a non-native architecture. Another would be to look at some specific module within the core and re-use the code within an OpenCores project. A third would be to reverse this - take OpenCores code (or write your own) and generate a module that would work within the T2 and would provide functionality the developers might want. A fourth would be to produce a specialized version of the chip (rad-hardened, for example) without paying license costs. And so on.
      • Re:Various options. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mdmkolbe ( 944892 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:49PM (#20149199)
        I do high performance numerical computation research, and something like this would help a lot.

        As part of my research I have to hand tweak and tune the inner most loops of our algorithms. Unfortunately, the performance of moderns processors behaves so counter-intuitively when pushing the floating-point units to the max, that it is basically impossible to guess whether a certain change will speed up or slow down the computation. Being able to know *exactly* what in in the CPU would greatly help with this.
        • Re:Various options. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by jd ( 1658 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @07:26PM (#20149693) Homepage Journal
          Generally, you have a library of routines tuned to different ranges of conditions, optimized by actually running them at different settings. ATLAS does this, for example, as do a number of other optimized libraries. However, you're absolutely right that modern cores are very sensitive to a range of conditions. Lookup/interpolation units are obviously not going to respond in a fixed interval, it will depend on what point you hit. Does the FPU have enough internal memory to avoid swapping in and out of core during calculations? If you re-order operations, can you squeeze better performance out of the L1 and L2 caches? Is a composite instruction faster or slower than executing the individual opcodes that would produce the same result?

          I don't know of anyone who has gone to the gate level to tune software - I've never found it necessary to go beyond a high-level definition of the processor, the sizes/speeds of the caches, the lanes between the segments, the length of each pipeline segment and other such information that can be basically listed. However, such information will not reveal unintended features (distinguished from bugs by being useful) and won't expose every possible shortcut.

          HPC is fun, though I agree that modern processors are counter-intuitive. They can do some seriously weird things at times, which is why CPUburn is such an interesting program. If only the developers still maintained it. :( A CPU that can self-destruct performing legal, documented operations is a buggy CPU. That goes for any other hardware, too.

    • by Surt ( 22457 )
      I think that's intended to be a tease for the subscriber feature ... you know those subscribers are already in that article, editing comments like mad, killing your dudes, etc.
      • I'm a subscriber and I still get that crap. See? I even have the subscriber karma bonus!

  • Irony (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:13PM (#20148645)
    Clicking the link returned the message: "This Account Has Exceeded Its CPU Quota"
  • by igotmybfg ( 525391 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:13PM (#20148663) Homepage
    ...when you are talking about a market with massive investment related non-recoverable expenses & high barriers to entry, such as processor fabrication.

    Although I submit it would be really cool to just manufacture these things in my garage.
    • by Wesley Felter ( 138342 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:23PM (#20148837) Homepage
      Apparently Sun will sell the chips to you already manufactured if you want.
    • by norton_I ( 64015 )
      Semiconductor fabrication is already a commodity business. Outside of Intel, there are essentially no vertically integrated semiconductor manufacturers left. Lots of people can design silicon, incorporate all or part of the UltraSparc core into it, and send it off to fab. For instance, NVidia could base their GPUs off of the Niagara arch.

      It isn't something that every kid and his grandma do in their garage, but lots of companies (even relatively small ones) could actually use this. Whether they will, or
    • Yet there are enough companies who already have invested in the infrastructure, and already have a supply chain, who are making chips right now. All these companies would have to do is start cranking out UltraSparc T2s, and selling them at whatever gets them a profit. Heck, Fujitsu already sells UltraSparc processors, usually cheaper than Sun does. Now if you get one or two more companies competing to sell these chips, the price starts to drop. Sun knows that their business isn't in microprocessors, it'
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:15PM (#20148681)
    Go look at the CPU cycles per watt that the UltraSPARC T1 delivers.

    Now, figure the UltraSPARC T2 is better than that.
    • by figleaf ( 672550 )
      Now look beyond the advertising figures and look at the actual real world application figures.
      Intel/AMD beats the pants off UltraSPARC T1 6 []
      • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:59PM (#20149349) Homepage

        I see a 1 GHz T1 doing quite well compared to a 2.4 GHz Opteron and a 3 GHz Xeon. Things have improved on the Intel front, but the T2 should do quite well for the workloads it is designed for. Not only does it have more threads (and I think a better memory controller), but now it has one FPU per core instead of 1 per chip. That means 8x as many FPUs. That was the real weak point and now it has been addressed.

        I can't wait to see benchmarks of this chip. It is far more interesting than "the same chip for 3 years ago, now 0.3 GHz faster" or "now with one more micro-op fuser and a 2% better branch decoder."

      • by Anonymous Coward
        That comparison is between a 1.0 GHz UltraSPARC T1 - a three-year-old chip. There are 1.4 GHz chips currently available. How many months has the Intel Q6600 been on the market?

        How well will that Intel architecture scale to over 4 CPUs, anyway. At least AMD can do that.
  • Power consumption? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Toffins ( 1069136 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:15PM (#20148691)
    I can't wait for somebody to design a new generation of desktop PCs that have lower power consumption than that of previous generations but without sacrificing performance and graphics. Anybody know how much power typical UltraSPARC based desktop PCs consume compared to Intel or AMD based desktop PCs?
    • I can't wait for somebody to design a new generation of desktop PCs that have lower power consumption than that of previous generations but without sacrificing performance and graphics.

      I believe there's a product called "Core 2 duo" from this small electronics company called "Intel".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by epine ( 68316 )

        You have a short little span of attention. When Intel first hit 60W with the original Pentium there was a huge outcry about its outrageous power consumption, and it hardly performed any better than a 100MHz 486, either. After a quick die shrink, the next version wasn't so bad. Now Intel sells the Core Duo at 65W as a major innovation in power management. After Intel's Prescott, it's almost impossible for anything else to look bad. But really, should a product that never deserved to be made in the first
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      Get a Core2Duo or one of the new low power AMDs. The just find a modern video card that is roughly the speed of a last generation card.
      If you want super high performance and super low power ... Not going to happen. They will always have the option to pump up the speed buy pumping up that watts.
      Top of the like will have high power draw.
      You have low power options that are pretty dang fast. The trade off is just up to you.
      • As they say, "Fast, cheap, and good. Pick any two."
      • I wonder if the UltraSPARC design team might have come up with a better low-power design than either Intel or AMD. I'm quite intrigued by the press release which says "UltraSPARC T2 processor, the fastest, most energy efficient microprocessor on the market" and "lowest Wattage per core of any processor in its class". I'm curious to see some simulated or measured Wattage figures for a complete UltraSPARC T2 desktop system. Does it beat a recent Core2Duo or AMD system having a power consumption measured in th
        • These are no desktop chips.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
          "I don't accept the premise that future CPU designs will always require hundreds of Watts of power."
          You don't have to. But you can not have the fastest CPU. No matter how efficient they make the chip you will save power running it slower. There will always be a market that will trade off everything for speed. So yes you will always have to trade off power efficiency for speed. But and this is the big one. CPUs are getting faster per watt. An AMD x2 isn't a slow cpu. You can get them that only use 65 Watts
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by aliquis ( 678370 )
          If I remember it right they max out at 72 watt for 8 cores running 8(?) threads each.
  • Which GPL? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by junglee_iitk ( 651040 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:16PM (#20148695)
    Nothing that it matter... just interested, but does anybody know if it is released under GNU GPL 2 or 3?
    • by AvitarX ( 172628 )
      It actually matters a lot because Sun probably owns a lot of patents.
      • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:43PM (#20149107) Journal
        Nothing that it matter... [is it] GNU GPL 2 or 3?

        It actually matters a lot because Sun probably owns a lot of patents.

        Too true.

        If I've got this right: Under GPL3 anybody with foundry access could make the chip or a derivative, with no more patent issues than Sun itself would have. But under GPL2 they might have to enter separate license agreements to actually implement it.

        = = = =

        Presuming this release does make the chip open to anybody absent further licensing, it will be interesting to see how it affects Sun's future.

        On one hand it means any company that wants to could build the chip and sell it in competition with Sun (which has borne the development costs on the SPARC series - but recouped much of them already).

        On the other hand, they have a number of advantages: Already up and fabbing, deep understanding of the chip, etc.

        Further, one big source of resistance to adoption of their chips is the concern for what happens if Sun abandons the line, stops developing it, goes belly-up, or closes up again. With a perpetual license to others to build this chip and make improvements on it, that's no longer an issue. Even if Sun went belly-up and left them with no other sources, a big enough company with a product based on this chip could even commission the fabrication of its own chips, rather than twisting in the wind for lack of supplies. So such a company can design this chip into their product line and buy it from Sun without betting their own company on a possibly weak supplier.

        Let's see Intel or AMD compete with that that. B-)
        • Oh, yes:

          If Sun's open-sourcing of this chip leads to a big boost for them, just IMAGINE what an argument that will be against the utility of the government-enforced monopoly in the patent reform debate. B-)
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by AvitarX ( 172628 )
          I am actually hoping that AMD or Intel decide that there is useful technology they can use in their own chips.

          Especially AMD who needs whatever they can get at the moment. It is really far fetched, but possible we see AMD respond with a GPL chip that uses parts of Sun's tech they find useful. If they can get ahead of Intel for another generation or two it could be worth it to them.
        • by griffjon ( 14945 )
          Another advantage is that no business in their right mind would enter into the chip market as a direct competitor, but embedded or other technologies will be encouraged by the GPL availability, spreading Sun technology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by WebMink ( 258041 )
      The original T1 design was released under GPLv2 a while back, and the new T2 design will be released under GPLv2 for now as well. Using GPL v2 creates an implicit patent license so while using GPLv3 would make the situation cleared GPLv2 is probably sufficient.

      And yes if you look at the map on the page (when they get some quota back after being slashdotted) you'll see they are getting a vast amount of interest from China, where I gather a company is already producing an OpenSPARC T1-derived ch
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by choongiri ( 840652 )

      It is GPLv2: []

  • by Sta7ic ( 819090 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @06:24PM (#20148843)
    I always wanted a Tech 2 processor.

    Oh wait...
  • We're announcing the fastest microprocessor we've ever shipped this week

    "We shipped a faster one last week!"

    (Apologies to MST3K and the classic flick Diabolik.)
  • As far as I knew, GPL only covered copyright. If this is the case, then Sun would still be protected by patent law. Unless GPL covers patents too.... Anyone know?
  • Now if they'd get S-Bus/hardware specs opened up on a "hobbyist RAND" basis, then you could bury the sun4m specific bits for good. Otherwise, to not aim to this crowd in some form would be stretching the "commodity silicon" term, as well as insisting on sun4m be buried and gone.

    Commodity silicon exists, and it's not done on SPARC.
  • FTFS: 89.6 GHz

    When did we get close to 100GHz for processors?
    • by Wesley Felter ( 138342 ) <> on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:14PM (#20150267) Homepage
      1.4 GHz * 8 cores * 8 threads = 89.6 fake GHz.

      I wonder how many BogoMIPS that is equivalent to.
    • by bcmm ( 768152 )
      They're adding together all the cores (which is sorta-OK), and all the threads running on each core (which is not OK because they compete for some of the same resources).

      It's a bit like me calling my 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo a 3.72GHz processor because it has two cores. Sure, it can perform 3.72 billion cycles per second, in total, but no part of it is actually clocked at that speed.

      Actually, when it comes to counting each thread on each core, it's getting to be a bit like calling a 2GHz P4 with hyperthreading
  • Not hindered by any actual knowledge about the processor, but this was my first thought:

    Considering it's Sun, this to me seems to have all the hallmarks of a farewell bid by "going open source" and hoping to hop onto the momentum it generates, if any.

    Five years from now, sparc will be history. Not for being bad or outdated, but because nobody really cares. And I think they know it.

    I might be wrong but I think that i386, and perhaps more specifically AMD/64 ultimately are just not possible to compete with, w
    • by Ant P. ( 974313 )
      It won't be the end of SPARC. SGI and Acorn may be dead, but that hasn't stopped the PSP and DS from existing.
  • by mritunjai ( 518932 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @08:44PM (#20150499) Homepage
    Just to quell the concerns of "abandonware" and cries of "performance benchmarks"

    Linky on numbers []


    * This puppy comes ahead of Power5 and top-dog (till now) Power6
    * Highest single CPU integer and floating point performance

    Oh, and it has 2 10G network interfaces on chip... and EIGHT crypto cores to keep them running full throttle too. All this with 8 core each with its own floating point unit and 8 threads.

    Oh and BTW, Ubuntu guys just booted their distro on this puppy :-)

    So yeah, it runs Linux (too)!
    • Addendum to summary and spoiler:

      Intel quad clovertown gets mauled. :-P
    • by Ricin ( 236107 )
      It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a great design dies anyway, would it? No interest, no momentum, no extra sales. That's a whole different thing than technical merits.

      And yeah, even if I don't have one, my FreeBSD ports do support and should compile and run properly on sparc64 (It's considered tier-1), but I can only read what the build cluster's or some random user's results were. And that's the whole point, for the vast majority of developers and users, it's just not going to stick because almo
  • Well, that was fun.
  • pfft (Score:4, Funny)

    by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Tuesday August 07, 2007 @09:49PM (#20151071) Journal
    'We're announcing the fastest microprocessor we've ever shipped this week'

    I bet its the only chip they've shipped this week.
  • Wouldn't that let people modify the blueprints (which are GPL'd) but not actually make the chip (which is presumably patented). Sounds like a PR stunt to me.

  • The posters here seem to be complaining that this is worthless because individuals can't make their own processor chips.

    That's not the point. Here's the point:

    1: Sun's processors are a niche market. People don't use them because they're harder to use than cheap commodity processors from Intel. Why are they harder to use? Because not enough people use them to create the kind of economic ecosystem that drives down the price of using the processors.

    2: All over Asia are chip factories that make low-end embedded devices, RAM chips, and so on. Factories that are owned by companies that don't have the cash on hand to do the R&D to design their own processors to compete with Intel.

    3: By GPL'ing their chip designs, Sun lets all those Asian factories produce chips that perform like Intels but cost even less. This gives people an extra incentive to switch away from Intel and to create the very economic ecosystem the processor needs.

    4. Next, Sun releases enhanced versions of the chip that aren't GPL'ed. Chip consumers can now choose from fast commodity processors or more expensive deluxe models - that are still code compatible.

    And Sun can repeat steps #3 and #4 as often as they like, feeding their previous generation designs to the GPL audience as their newest designs hit the market.
  • So what's the DigiKey [] part number? So I can buy a few (or a thousand, or whatever). I just entered "SPARC" in their database, and got "No records match your search criteria."

    If I can't buy it from major distributors, it's not "commodity" silicon.

  • When will it be possible to get a PCI-e board with a load of FPGAs to which I can download a T2 to run code on, when some code I download happens to be T2 opcodes? Or even anywhere close to that, like a wrapper on the FPGA that can use the T2 config as a starting point to emulate the T2?

Disks travel in packs.