US Report: Analysts sceptical of Sun's claims for future chip

With no new chips or technologies on tap in the immediate future, vendors are starting to bang the drum for upcoming processors and offering promises of performance that are stirring up some controversy. Sun Microsystems is promising UltraSPARC V, code-named Millennium, for volume shipment in the first quarter of the year 2000.

With no new chips or technologies on tap in the immediate future, vendors are starting to bang the drum for upcoming processors and offering promises of performance that are stirring up some controversy. Sun Microsystems is promising UltraSPARC V, code-named Millennium, for volume shipment in the first quarter of the year 2000.

Sun claims the new chip will be faster than Intel's Merced, Silicon Graphics' R12000, and two unannounced chips -- a PowerPC chip from IBM, code-named Boxer and the 21364 Alpha chip from Compaq Computer's Digital subsidiary.

In a recent presentation to resellers, Sun claimed UltraSPARC V will run at 1,000MHz with a 64KB/16MB cache, integer vs. floating point of approximately 90/110, and 4.2 instructions per cycle.

Analysts, however, are somewhat skeptical of Sun's claims. Linley Gwennap, editorial director of the US Microprocessor journal, Microprocessor Report, says that when compared against the UltraSPARC III, due to sample at year's end, the numbers show performance improvements that are "completely unprecedented in the microprocessor industry." However, Gwennap says there is one thing for certain: Sun customers will have "a smoother migration path."

In addition, Michael Slater, also of the MicroProcessor Report, believes Sun underestimates the clock speed of the Compaq/Digital chip.

Sun says the Alpha chip will run at 750MHz when it ships in the second half of next year. But a Compaq/Digital spokesman claims the Alpha will be at 1,000MHz by 2000. Slater said he believes Sun underestimates all numbers associated with Boxer, which he says is now due mid-2000. Sun has IBM shipping a 600MHz chip with 32KB/1MB cache and 2:2 instructions per cycle at the end of 1999. IBM did not return phone calls seeking comment, and Intel declined to comment on Merced.

A Silicon Graphics spokeswoman, meanwhile, says Sun is making "an apples-to-oranges comparison" of uniprocessor to multiprocessor performance. However, SGI did confirm it will ship a 300MHz chip in January, with performance boosts slated throughout 1999.

Sun's microelectronics division refuses to discuss UltraSPARC V, although it did expound on UltraSPARC III, a 600MHz chip that originally was due to sample this summer. Sun attributes the delay to an "over-aggressive schedule."

Sun group marketing manager Jeff O'Neal says UltraSPARC III is designed for high-end workstations and servers and excels at multiprocessor scalability. UltraSPARC IV, also due next year, will benefit from Sun's relationship with Texas Instruments, which will take the chip down from 0.25 microns to 0.18 microns and finally to 0.15 microns

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