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Sun boots server with Niagara II chip

Move marks a key milestone in the company's attempt to restore the relevance of its Sparc processor family.

Sun Microsystems has booted its Solaris operating system on a server with a prototype of its forthcoming Niagara II processor, one key milestone for the company's attempt to restore the relevance of its Sparc processor family.

The first Niagara chip, formally called the UltraSparc T1, is used in the Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 servers that have come to market in recent months. Niagara II keeps its predecessor's relatively low 70-watt power consumption and extends its ambitious design elements, multiple processing cores and execution threads.

The Niagara II system booted on May 26, spokesman Alex Plant said, about three months ahead of the late August or early September schedule. The processor is still scheduled to ship in systems in 2007, he said.

Sun is betting its server business recovery both on restoring its Sparc server family and on entering the x86 server market using processors from Advanced Micro Devices. The company lost market share to IBM, Dell and Hewlett-Packard in the years after the dot-com bubble burst.

Niagara has eight processing cores, each able to run four independent instruction sequences, called threads. Niagara II will have the same eight cores, but each core will run eight threads. A processor core switches from one thread to the next when the first stalls because it has to fetch data from relatively slow memory, a design that emphasizes the aggregate performance of multiple simultaneous tasks rather than the speed of an individual thread.

In addition, Niagara II has built-in 10-gigabit-per-second Ethernet networking, multiple floating-point units to speed mathematical calculations, and new encryption and decryption abilities. Finally, Niagara II is designed for dual-processor servers.