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Sun open-sources second Niagara chip

The 64-thread UltraSparc T2 design now is available under the General Public License.

The UltraSparc T2, code-named Niagara 2, has eight cores and can execute 64 simultaneous instruction sequences called 'threads,' switching from one to another when the first stalls waiting for data from the computer's memory. Sun Microsystems

Sun Microsystems on Tuesday followed through on a promise to release the designs of a second server processor as open-source software.

The design for Niagara 2, formally called the UltraSparc T2 and currently shipping in servers, now is governed by the General Public License (GPL)--though as with Niagara 1, Sun is using the earlier version 2 of the seminal license.

The overall initiative, called OpenSparc, is geared to increase the relevance of the Sparc family by building academic and engineering expertise around the processor. To that end, Sun also said five universities have been designated OpenSparc technology centers of excellence: the University of California-Santa Cruz; University of Texas-Austin; University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign; and Carnegie Mellon University.

The T1 and T2 chips both employ an aggressively multithreaded design that can juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. All major chipmakers are employing this approach, though not as dramatically, in an effort to get more work out of processors now that it's hard to boost them through clock speed improvements.

Sun released the T1 designs in 2006.