The processor, to be announced at the SunNetwork 2002 conference in San Francisco, is built by Texas Instruments with a manufacturing process that permits 130-nanometer features, a smaller size than the current 150-nanometer process. Having smaller features means a smaller overall chip, which in turn means that power consumption decreases while the clock speed increases.
Texas Instruments said in July that the 1.2GHz processor was in production. TI also is working on a "dual core" prototype that places two UltraSparc chips side-by-side on the same slice of silicon, and in early 2003 plans to begin testing a 90-nanometer process that ultimately will be used to build the UltraSparc V.
The new UltraSparc III processor, which is expected to be available within 120 days, consumes a maximum of 53 watts of power compared with 75 watts for the current UltraSparc III, Sun plans to announce. Power consumption is important because chips that draw more current put off more waste heat, and heat can cause chip errors and computer crashes.
Producing new chips is a key part of whether Sun can keep its systems competitive with the hordes of inexpensive Intel-based computers as well as the scarcer but more important high-end machines using processors such as IBM's Power4 and Intel's Itanium.
While Sun beat Intel's Itanium to the 130-nanometer process, Sun is behind schedule with its chips. In an interview a smidgen shy of two years ago, former Sun chief John Shoemaker said the UltraSparc IV processor would be out within two years.
Sun's high-end Sun Fire systems can be upgraded with new processors, with different-speed processors running in the same servers at the same time. The first systems used 750MHz chips, but they have subsequently been upgraded with 900MHz and 1.05GHz processors.