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Sun gives Niagara official name

Company unveils UltraSparc T1 as part of event devoted to computing equipment that consumes less power.

Sun Microsystems has given its newest processor a more permanent label than its "Niagara" code name: the UltraSparc T1.

Sun unveiled the name on Monday as part of an event devoted to the company's emphasis on computing equipment that consumes less power than current technology, a big problem for customers grappling with electricity bills, as well as heating and cooling issues. Sun will sell UltraSparc T1-based systems later this quarter; a likely launch time is Sun's quarterly Network Computing event on Dec. 6 in New York.

UltraSparc T1

The UltraSparc T1 runs at 1.2GHz and consumes less than 72 watts, said Fadi Azhari, a marketing director for Sun's Scalable Systems group. That maximum power consumption is less than the and a maximum of 95 watts for a mainstream dual-core Opteron from Advanced Micro Devices.

The T1 has eight independent processing engines, called cores, each able to simultaneously execute four instruction sequences, called threads. Sun also has applied a trademark to this aggressive multithreading approach, calling it CoolThreads.

With the multicore, multithreaded approach, the chip can perform many tasks simultaneously. For higher-end jobs requiring fast single-thread performance, Sun plans to release a cousin to the T1, code-named Rock, in 2008.

Sun is trying to reverse Unix server market share losses by rebuilding its server line from scratch. Along with its Sparc models--UltraSparc T1; a successor called Niagara II that can work in multiprocessor servers; and Rock--Sun also has embraced Opteron in its "Galaxy" line of x86 servers. The x86 machines can run Windows and Linux as well as Sun's Solaris, the only operating system available for the Sparc family.

Sun hasn't been afraid to raise expectations for Niagara, which earlier had been due to arrive in 2006. Sun is gearing the systems for lower-end network-intensive tasks such as serving Web pages and running Java application server software.

Although Niagara has eight cores, Sun will sell models with six and four cores as well. Those parts aren't separate designs, but rather are eight-core chips in which not all of the cores work. As six- or four-core chips, however, the processors are completely functional because the defects exist only in the disabled cores. Chip manufacturers have used this technique for years to repackage high-end chips with slight, but avoidable, defects.

Sun plans two Niagara systems, the 1.75-inch thick "Erie" model and the 3.5-inch thick "Ontario" model.