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Sun Microsystems

Sun's Zippy New Chips 246

Mark the Revelator writes: "Reuters has a story about Sun unveiling it's latest and greatest UltraSparcIII chips. The new chips are being made by TI and are the first UltraSparcs to use copper instead of aluminum for transistor connections. Although they're supposed to compete with Intel's Itanium chips, they only run at 900MHz ... for now."
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Sun's Zippy New Chips

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  • Sun's MAJC (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joneshenry ( 9497 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @01:13PM (#1562)
    Ars Technica has a fantastic article [] comparing and contrasting Sun's future MAJC (Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing) CPU architecture with Intel's IA-64. It's going to be very interesting to see if Sun can carve out a large enough market to ensure MAJC's viability. My uninformed opinion after reading the article--Sun has been making decisions since its founding that have given it the only chance to survive. By almost totally eschewing both Intel and Microsoft, Sun has been forced to innovate on both hardware and software to compete with these giants. Sun simply had to invent Java--what was the alternative, reselling NT "workstations"?! Now Sun has leveraged Java into strategic partnerships with IBM, Oracle, etc. to create from scratch a major software niche, not to mention Java's future in the embedded markets. MAJC it seems to me is the logical step in hardware once Sun made the commitment to Java and once Sun decided not to become a reseller of Intel chips like say HP. Without having to worry about what Intel wants, Sun can use its traditional RISC approach to registers to once again offer a fantastic alternative--read the Ars Technica article cited above: "MAJC, however, spends so much of its die space on registers that it can have the register states for four different threads loaded at once. Since it doesn't have to save and load register states to switch between threads, its context switches are very fast". In the 1980s HP saved the company investing in PA-RISC. Maybe that was because the engineer founders David Packard and Bill Hewlett were still alive and strong. I believe that it is Sun that has applied that lesson of not surrendering control over the CPU architecture, and that HP will continue to pay a heavy price for deciding to go with Intel. Financing new chip architectures is difficult, but in my opinion there is no future for being a reseller unless one is IBM or Dell. (And note that IBM resells only because it wants to since it already manufactures alternatives, it is beholden to no one. Just who will be able to compete with IBM's Global Services?)
  • Sun Blade 1000 UltraSPARC-III 900 MHz: SPECint2000 = 467
    Intel D850GB motherboard Pentium 4 1.7 GHz: SPECint2000 = 586
    All from

    My old manager had a great reason for buying Sun; no one will ever put M$ windows on it!

  • Sorry, I couldn't help it... The title got me.

    Here's [] a real Zippy processor.

  • by Quill ( 238781 )
    The new chips are being made by TI

    Does this mean that I'll be able to run the "Space Rocks" game I programmed on my TI-85 graphing calculator?
    • Ha ha, very funny (Score:4, Insightful)

      by HoserHead ( 599 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @10:34AM (#23023)
      You'd be surprised. Texas Instruments makes calculators and projectors (DLP - in digital theatres) which are end-user visible, but they are much, much bigger in the chip manufacturing business; chips are their biggest business. Know that cell phone you're talking on? Chances are, it's got a TI chip in it.

      They make all of Sun's UltraSparc chips, and also manufacture other, more esoteric things - like dual core chips (DSP and ARM, known as OMAP).

      All in all, TI is much, much more than calculators.

  • I recently received the sunfire 280r I ordered for use as a network management station. One of the first things I noticed was how fast it was able to un-gzip files. It sounds silly, but I didn't think it worked the first time I ran the command, the prompt just came back too fast. I thought, "hey, what the hells wrong with gzip?", then realized that it was just a lot faster than the other systems I had been using.

    I know its just anectdotal, but hey, some of the best stuff is!
  • For a while one had to wonder if the high end CPU makers were just giving up and jumping on the Intel bandwagon (*cough* HP *cough*) Glad to see Sun is still looking to extend and improve their CPU line to stay competitive.

    Don't get me wrong, I love my Athlons, but I used to work in an HP based shop with PA-RISC all around. I'll never forget when the K-Class and N Class servers first came into our data center with the latest PA-RISC beasts - they were so fast it was scary (this was like 3 years ago)

  • if they had delivered on time instead of 3 years late.....
  • Ther're so much more to buying Sun kit than CPU cycles.

    You get (IMHO) the best OS you can run on a server (*incomparably* more reliable than Linux in my experience).

    You get a better build quality than with PC class gear. (not so with the low-end Ultras I know, but have you tried carrying an E450 around lately?) I've worked with Sun boxes (mail hubs, NIS servers etc.) that haven't been swtiched off in 8 or 10 years.

    You get excellent support - hardware or software. It costs, but it's worth it.

    You get as much SMP as you could want.

    You get insane amounts of addressable RAM and faster bus speeds.

    In short kids, you get *proper computers* running a *proper OS*.
  • MHz to MHZ (Score:5, Informative)

    by shokk ( 187512 ) <> on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:57AM (#17155) Homepage Journal

    Just because the MHz on the Sun equipment (900MHz) is lower than the current Pentium (1.5MHz), don't be fooled into thinking the Intel hardware is better. What matters after all, is throughput and pumping that data. Check your specs []!

    Check this 4 CPU Intel vs the 1 CPU Sun considering plain speed...

    CINT2000: Intel Corporation Intel D850GB motherboard(1.5 GHz, Pentium 4 processor) - 536 524
    CFP2000: Intel Corporation Intel D850GB motherboard(1.5 GHz, Pentium 4 processor) - 558 549
    CINT2000: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 1900 - 467 438
    CFP2000: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 1900 - 482 427
    CINT2000: Advanced Micro Devices Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz Athlon MP Processor - 522 495
    CFP2000: Advanced Micro Devices Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz Athlon MP Processor - 481 433

    Throughput on the Sun with 2 CPU, but strangely enough, none for any Intel hardware. Throw a 2 CPU AMD in there, though...

    CINT2000 rate: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 2900 - 10.7 9.97
    CFP2000 rate: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 2900 - 10.2 9.09
    CINT2000 rate: Advanced Micro Devic Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz 2CPU - 10.8 11.1
    CFP2000 rate: Advanced Micro Devic Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz 2CPU - 8.30 9.14

    • OK, so those raw numbers look pretty close......out of curiosity what is the difference in price? Its the price/performance that Intel usually wins with, right?
      • yeah, but it depends how you measure performance... If you are talking merely of processing speed (even including factors like memory bandwith, I/O, etc etc etc), then intel beats sun on price/performance no worries...

        However, you often need to consider the need for scalability, reallyreally good uptime, support for old machines a few years down the track (and parts availability), and so on. Even the way that performance degrades as load increases can be a differentiating factor. The extra $$$ you spend on Sun gear certainly does get you more, but the question is whether that is worth paying for in your situation...


        • Sorry but that all sounds like whistling past the graveyard, and isn't one of the points of open source to obtain those same qualities without resort to minicomputer-era support contract prices? It might be an argument for some telecom applications, but outside of telco COs and a few narrow verticals, cheaper is cheaper, no matter how you look at it. As for parts availability, it is hard to beat standard PCs. Anything you make millions of each month is unlikely to ever wind up lacking for parts, no matter how old the installation.
          • Software can only do so much.
            Suppose that a CPU fails in your precious server: on Intel hardware you have to take the server down, replace the CPU and reboot.
            Certain models of Sun hardware have CPU hot-plugging: a faulty CPU gets detected by the OS and is taken offline. A techie comes, replaces the CPU without turning the computer off, and then the new CPU is taken online without breaking a sweat.
            Some goes for RAM.

            Ever tried changing a broken RAM stick on Intel wihtout powering off? Don't do that, you can't.
            The PC platform only has one strong point: it (used to be) is simple and widespread, and those factors mean cheap. Other architectures are not as simple or not as widespread, thus are more expensive. But they are consistent, they are scalable, and they are reliable. All things that the PC architecture is not.
    • Re:MHz to MHZ (Score:4, Informative)

      by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @10:20AM (#23958)
      Check this 4 CPU Intel vs the 1 CPU Sun considering plain speed...
      I believe it says Pentium 4 as in the "Pentium 4," not 4 Pentium CPUs ;) The P4 doesn't do SMP yet, so the comparison is even.

      CINT2000: Intel Corporation Intel D850GB motherboard(1.5 GHz, Pentium 4 processor) - 536 524
      CFP2000: Intel Corporation Intel D850GB motherboard(1.5 GHz, Pentium 4 processor) - 558 549
      CINT2000: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 1900 - 467 438
      CFP2000: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 1900 - 482 427
      CINT2000: Advanced Micro Devices Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz Athlon MP Processor - 522 495
      CFP2000: Advanced Micro Devices Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz Athlon MP Processor - 481 433
      So you just proved that the P4 chop-shops the UltraSparc in SPEC...

      Throughput on the Sun with 2 CPU, but strangely enough, none for any Intel hardware. Throw a 2 CPU AMD in there, though...
      Again, P4 doesn't do SMP, but Athlon does.

      CINT2000 rate: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 2900 - 10.7 9.97
      CFP2000 rate: Sun Microsystems Sun Blade 1000 Model 2900 - 10.2 9.09
      CINT2000 rate: Advanced Micro Devic Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz 2CPU - 10.8 11.1
      CFP2000 rate: Advanced Micro Devic Tyan Thunder K7 Motherboard, 1.2GHz 2CPU - 8.30 9.14
      So, the dual CPU athlon beats the UltraSparc in SPEC as well.

      Avoid showing data that refutes you claims...

  • Only 900 mhz, but... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    keep in mind that these are pure RISC processors and have always toasted any CISC or CISC-to-RISC processor of a much higher processor rating.
    • > keep in mind that these are pure RISC processors
      > and have always toasted any CISC or CISC-to-RISC
      > processor of a much higher processor rating.

      That is misleading and, in fact, bordering on the level of a total lie. The benefits of RISC architectures are not performance. They're simplicity. This simplicity, in the past, sometimes had the benefit of increasing performance, but higher performance is not a rule in and of itself.

      Saying that "pure RISC processors ... have always toasted any CISC or CISC-to-RISC" is a solid lie. There are plenty of occasions where a CISC processor outperforms a RISC processor.

      In specfp_2000, the lowest frequency Pentium 4 scores a 516, while the highest frequency UltraSPARC III scores a 482. The slowest Pentium 4 is 7.1% faster than the fastest USPARCIII.

      In specint_2000, the slowest P4 gets a 490, while the fastest Sun processor gets a 467. Here, the wimpiest current generation Intel processor is 4.9% faster than the best thing Sun can offer.

      These above factors keep in mind that the Sun chips are *specifically* architected to achieve the highest performance possible, pretty much regardless of cost. They are full-on server chips. The Intel Pentium 4 series are designed with cost factors in mind. The Pentium 4 cannot be a three thousand dollar behemoth due to its target market (actually, the 750MHz USPARCIII processor module costs about $7k on Sun's website). So the USPARCIII can have the benefit of loads of added performance enhancing features while the Netburst (P4) architecture has to cut corners at every step.

      the UltraSPARC III outperforms the Pentium 4 on a clock for clock basis. Of course, the original Pentium outperforms the Pentium 4 on a clock for clock basis on many benchmarks, too. This means nothing. It is merely reflective of different design strategies. I can easily point out the fact that the Pentium 4 offers higher performance per watt or higher performance per number of integer ALUs. But, like "performance per megahertz", those are also stupid measurements.

      There is nothing out there which would cause me to believe that an x86 processor made with the design strategy of the UltraSPARC III ("we're gonna sell this for thousands of dollars, so throw in the kitchen sink, too!") would not outperform the UltraSPARC III at like frequency. Well, except if the the fp instructions on the USIII are three operand, but that's a special case. ^_^

  • ...that I would never see the words "they only run at 900MHz". Okay, so I'm only 19, but I feel old now.
    • Know what makes me feel old? My first box ran at 4.77MHz. Yeah. 4.77. Umm. And it had two floppies! RaH! No hard drive, just two floppies.
      And later I got a 300 baud modem. Double RaH.


      The Wizard's Realm - Telegard 2.0 - 686-0235
  • Here's the formula for computing a metric that allows you to compare two different chips regardless of architecture when running a specific program:

    Effective Speed( Program p ) = Instructions in p * Avg # of cycles to complete 1 instruction * seconds per cycle

    In other words seconds per cycle is the inverse of clock speed.

    What can be gained from this equation:

    1. Chip A is not "faster" than Chip B. The speed of a chip depends on the program being executed. The equation above can be made more general by focusing on instruction types and not complete programs, but since the average user uses "programs" the above equation is more relevant.
    2. Clock Speed is irrelevant when not discussed in the context of the chip architecture. Is there parallel execution? What is the architecture of the chip including: the pipeline, any caches, etc.
    3. Focus on the program, and how different programs run differently on different architectures. It is more than possible that when changing architectures some programs may run faster and some programs may run slower depending.

    Stop drooling about clock speeds, it is nearly meaningless, and is only a marketing tool. If users thought feature size was cool, we'd be having this argument about how "0.18 micron feature size" is meaningless when trumpeted out of context.

    Start getting interested in SPECint and SPECfp metrics. Why don't chip makers start focusing on those metrics?

    When Moore's law starts failing, someday, we'll see far more innovation in chip designs that don't relate to feature size or clock speed. There's a whole unrealized sea of optimization that could happen to speed up current designs right now. We all beat up Microsoft for being a monopoly, how about Intel :-).

  • Cool. (Score:2, Funny)

    by sporty ( 27564 )
    They run 900mhz for now, but when sun hits a switch, they all will overclock themselves!

    With the same switch, world peace will come, britney spears will have some talent and just maybe, code redworm will stop being a "threat". Ok ok.. I went overboard witht he britney spears thing, sorry ;)

    • But Britney does have talent!

      It's just that you usually the only place you see that kind of talent is in porno movies...
  • Megahurtz! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rimcrazy ( 146022 )
    I don't know what APPLICATIONS you people are running but it seems all you are comparing are SPEC marks. We run Cadence Verilog and Synopsys synthesis on our Dell PIII 1Ghz machines and they blow the frigging doors of all of our SPARC's. For IC design applications at least 64Bit vs 32 Bit is a non issues as most of the apps are not compiled for 64bits. Performance is mostly just CPU clock speed so a 1Ghz PIII runs at just over 2x a Sun Ultra 450. Given that there is about a 3-4x difference in cost and about a 2x performance bonus you get about a 6x-8x cost/performance benifit. I'll take Intel machines all day long. Sun better wake up or they are going to lose the CAD market. Course, I don't think they really care about that one anyway.
    • This was an interesting remark, I started to hear similar things very often recently. My understanding is that most EDA software on the x86 platform is written for WindowsNT/2000. Isn't your productivity to some degree limited by the stability of the Windows operating system, especially for CPU-intensive, lengthy tasks like formal verification and transistor-level simulation? (But then, these things are most likely done on server farms in big companies, anyway) Are you using your x86 machines for these tasks; or are you mostly using them for HDL design entry/simulation; and synthesis?(which will admittedly be a lot more cost-effective on x86 systems)

      It's just sad that many EDA companies tried offering their products on Linux; and had to pull them back because of low demand.
  • What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RainbowSix ( 105550 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:10AM (#22978) Homepage
    Although they're supposed to compete with Intel's Itanium chips, they only run at 900MHz ... for now.

    Just becaue it runs "only" at 900mhz doesn't mean anything compared to an Itanium running at a higher clock speed. There are many more factures like pipelines, cache, and over all archetecture. A 900mhz sparc could beat an Itanium at a higher clock speed just like Athlons and PIIIs can beat P4s in certain benchmarks while running at lower clockspeeds. (not saying it will or will not, but you can't discount one processor based only on clock.)
    • The Itanium achieved some truely awesome SPEC-FP scores that made Sun look pretty bad. At FP, Itanium whales.

      Itanium suffers from the same problems as the Pentium 4, in some ways, in that you can't ever branch. If you can find code that does this, and doesn't have many NOPs, the Itanium will perform very well. That doesn't describe much general-purpose code in the real world.

      So, the crux of this is that Itaniums are faster at some things, just like the Pentium 4 is faster at some things. The risk is that these Intel processor applications are becomming highly specialized, and better general-purpose processors are available.

  • RISC/CISC (Score:2, Offtopic)

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Itanium a CISC-based processor while the sparc is a RISC-based processor. Even at 900MHz, it should outperform most CISC-based processors. Or should I stop posting at 8AM?
    • The P4 should have shown everyone that MHz dont't say anything. In most cases, a fast Athlon or P3 can beat the almost 400MHz faster P4. So there's no reason why a 900MHz Sparc or a 866MHz G4 shouldn't be able to compete with the CPUs above. MHz don't count - it's that simple.
    • While it may be up for some debate, CISC processors are known primarily for opcodes of variable length (some instructions are one word, some two, some three, etc.). They are also known for an overly-rich instruction set and a smaller number of registers.

      RISC processors are known for uniform length of opcodes, a library of instructions that has been tuned to optimize compiler output, no direct operations on memory other than load/store, and a larger number of registers (sometimes allocated in clumps like the Sparc register windows).

      VLIW (which Intel calls Epic) is also known for uniform length of opcodes, but gathers several opcodes into a bundle and executes the bundle all at once. The Itanium executes 3 instructions at a time in this way. The Itanium's main weakness is that it cannot execute these "bundles" out-of-order, and it relies upon compile-time analysis for most of its optimization when the least is known about the executible code.

      AFAIK, both the Pentium 3/4 and the Athlon still have out-of-order RISC processors at the core, and translation units that move x86 code into the native code. Cyrix was the last vendor to make a real x86-CISC processor, but it couldn't scale much beyond 400MHz, so VIA killed it.

      The original Pentium had something similar to the VLIW idea in that it had two parallel execution units for executing two instructions at once (super-scalar), but the second execution unit got switched off if there was a dependency between the group of two instructions.

    • Re:RISC/CISC (Score:5, Insightful)

      by color of static ( 16129 ) <.gro.eeei. .ta. .sretsams.> on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:13AM (#27884) Homepage Journal
      Those terms don't apply well with modern processors. Pentiums class processors are primarly CISC with some RISC features/ideas (not many though). The Sparc family has been RISC with a lot of complexity thus making them be more CISC than say the Alpha. That has historically been why their clockspeed is lower than alpha, but still performs about the same for general purpose computing.
      The Itanium is a branch off of a different tree, Very Long Instruction Word, which is a branch off of RISC. VLIW let's a compiler pack multiple commands to multiple execution units into a single long word. The idea is to use very RISCy commands to keep a superscalar set of execution units more fully utilized. Great idea, if your compiler can do it.
      • Re:RISC/CISC (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Doesn't apply well at all. They're all RISC now, but with CISC wrappers on some, you decide which. BTW: The Sparc III, code name Cheetah, is designed with multi-processor scalability in mind, including local and global cache coherency. Its databus is 128bits wide and I hear from reliable sources so close, that the 1.2 Ghz is only limited by product yield.
      • Wow, I heard completly different argument about 5 years ago, regarding the reason why RISC is faster (MhZ wise) than CISC.
      • Re:RISC/CISC (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bribecka ( 176328 )
        In addition, I beleive that the Itanium CPU itself does no real optimization of the instructions, such as common subexpression elimination, loop unrolling, etc. Instead it relies on the compiler to create highly optimized code.

        Is this a good idea though? I mean, using one of today's compilers, ported to a IA64/Itanium architecture, a compiled program might run very slowly, since today's compilers probably let a bit of the optimization (within reason) up to the CPU. This would also mean that it may be a little while until some quality IA64 compilers are released. Or am I misinformed?

      • Re:RISC/CISC (Score:2, Interesting)

        by shimmin ( 469139 )
        The "if your compiler can do it" is the mother of all caveats.

        From my point of view, the Iantium shares a lot of similarities with the iAPX432 of 20 years ago. Both are new architectures that purport to emulate the previous technology, but from all reports at least, don't do that emulation very well. Both rely on software technology that exists only in the laboratory, if there.

        Only time will tell if both share the same marketing fate.

  • Traffic Jam (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beanerspace ( 443710 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:17AM (#23899) Homepage
    MHz, 900 or otherwise doesn't really mean that much in light of how much traffic a computer can bus. Meaning, what good is it to process really fast if after processing, instructions get bogged down in a traffic jam getting back down to the backplane, up and down memory and/or various interface boards ?

    Part of Sun's success is how well they address the bus/throughput issue, as opposed to 'other' computer architectures. And that's why JUST comparing MHz is like comparing apples and oranges.

    Or perhaps a better anology is comparing a Formula 1 Racing car stuck in down-town NYC Traffic, versus a 6 cylinder Honda Accord on flat, wide-open highway in Montanta, during the daytime when the weather is perfect.

    • An even better analogy than the F-1 in traffic is doing a straight comparison to a pickup.

      Give the racer and the pickup each a load to haul. The racing car will pass the pickup several times hauling the load, but the truck driver will be twiddling his thumbs waiting for the other guy to finish.

      While Sun boxen are only decent at CPU power, that was not the central design goal. Pushing data is.
    • An F1 stuck in down-town NYC would certainly attract more chicks than an Accord in Montana. Isn't that why we choose the flashiest hardware we can, to get more chicks? :-)

      On the other hand, a sparc runs the software I want to run, and the software I earn tons of money from. So of course, having tons of money gets higher quality chicks better than any car :-)

      the AC
      [not a politically correct post since I'm in a country which has outlawed 'Merkin correctness]
    • Re:Traffic Jam (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SiliconJesus ( 1407 )
      Here's the analogy I use here at work comparing the two.

      The Intel chip is like a sports car.
      The UltraSparc is a Tractor Trailer

      They both have the same horse power (in theory). The intel's nice and zippy, assuming that you don't have alot of weight. The UltraSparc may not be as zippy, but it can handle a heck-of-a-lotta more load. Its sorta like the difference in gear ratios. Now, would you like to pull a tractor trailer with a Lamborghini? No. Would you like to drag race the Tractor (stock of course - I've seen the races on speedvision (GRIN))? No. It depends on your application. DB's are a heavy load. Just think about it.
  • I recently installed a Sun Blade 1000 here at work. It's an Ultra Sparc III 750 Mhz processor. It was a HUGE upgrade from the Ultra 1 it was replacing. Pretty soon I'll be rolling out Sun's Gridware [] to make the most of it.

    It blows any of the pentium-based machines we have here out of the water.


    • We've ported our software from Sun to Linux (and to SGI, we used to have it on IBMs as well, but there is no amrket there anymore). [ [] for those who care about cutting edge seismic inversion, stochastic inversion and other really cool stuff. Though that site is the marketing friendly version ] Anyway, we found that for our applications a 1Ghz PIII is about 3.5 times as fast as a Sun ultra 10/60/80 (with an Ultra II 440 cpu). A blade 1000/750 is about half as fast as a PIII/1000
  • wow, someone badmouths a 900 mhz chip from sun being competition for the Itaniums (which, i read somewhere, were only running at 800 at this point...), and all of a sudden the "it's the pipeline, stupid" and "there's more than just megahertz" people come out of the woodwork.

    i'll have to remember this when the next G4 vs Pentium4 debate comes up...
  • by HerrGlock ( 141750 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:13AM (#24591) Homepage
    I work with Ultra 10s, 60, and 80s daily. From the normal work, UltraSPARC chips do things about twice the speed of a similarly 'clocked' Pentium chip.

    UltraSPARC 450s do things about the same time as Pentium 900s, etc.

    These should be screamers. Don't be fooled by the number attached to the chip.

    • This *really* depends on what your doing. I mean if you run Seti (or things with massive FP) then a US450 is about the equivalent of a 900Mhz Pentium III. (I have did many tests to prove this). BUT if you talking integer performance (with the exception of RDBMS) then the Pentium III is faster. I just got a Sunfire 280 in (2x750USIII) and I can't wait to play around with it.
    • by larien ( 5608 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:30AM (#24182) Homepage Journal
      People often say things like that, but my experience is that you may get something like a 50% boost in an equivalent clock speed USII chip.

      Where the real advantages come in is with things like memory architectures (eg, memory interleaving) and bus speeds (where the system bandwidth is more than an x86 solution) which is relevant in databases. Added to that, you can scale these up much more (the E6800 can have 24 900MHz CPU's, for instance; Fujitsu have recently released a 128 CPU system based on their USII clone at 500+MHz).

      If you want a measure of raw CPU performance, check; currently, the fastest single CPU systems are Intel P4's (although some alphas come damn close). The Sun 280R doesn't come close to that, although it is faster than its clock speed would suggest...

      • I would not be surprised to find this out at all. I was talking about Joe Average using both systems. The Sun systems are made with SCSI and have a bus that tends to take things faster than Intel clone stuff. To me, as a SysAdmin and to my end-users, why doesn't matter near as much as the fact that it does work faster.

        My comment was on clock speed and how most people only look at the CPU speed and decide that is how fast the machine works without taking into account the different architectures as a whole into account, as it seems the writer ofthe article saw '900 Mhz' and used the word 'only' in the write up.

  • by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:15AM (#25736) Journal
    Millions of innocent instructions are being executed every day. The latest generation of processors is killing these instructions faster and more efficiently.

    How in a civilised society can we sit back and let this apocolypse happen? I say its time to end this now. Boycott processors. Save the instructions

    • by sharkey ( 16670 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @11:56AM (#12675)
      Won't somebody PLEASE think of the child processes?!?!
    • by coreman ( 8656 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:33AM (#25994) Homepage
      Did they get the execution speed up by going with Texas Instruments?
    • by j7953 ( 457666 )
      Save the instructions

      Actually, this will happen. Current processors are designed so that with each cycle they load and decode the instructions they're going to execute (and, of course, the data the instruction is going to work on). When the instruction is completed, it's thrown away. This is highly inefficient for loops, because the same code is loaded again and again. Think about audio or video decoders -- the same decoding instrcutions are reloaded all the time.

      Future processors will, at least partly, be reconfigurable, that is they will load a set of instructions and save it, and then have to load the data only. This is supposed to be the optimum between a hardware-only implementation (fastest, but can't change when, for example, encodings change) and current "software-only" implementations (most flexible, but processors must (re)load instructions in each cycle).

      Take a look at, for example, PACT [] if you're interested in this technology, they're one of the companies developing such processors.

      • Future processors will, at least partly, be reconfigurable, that is they will load a set of instructions and save it, and then have to load the data only.

        You just described a cache, and they have been used for years.
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @09:22AM (#25900) Homepage Journal
    Attempting to measure how fast a computer can go by its CPU's clock speed is tantamount to measuring how fast a car can go by its engine's horsepower. There are many more factors at play here.

    Let's start with the whole RISC vs. CISC thing. Everyone knows that RISC is more efficient; the only thing that has kept CISC alive this long is backwards compatibility with the Wintel juggernaut. You develop a lean, efficient instruction set, then you write compiler back ends that take advantage of it.

    Also keep in mind that Sun's motherboard designs are true performers. The path between the CPU, memory, and bus are designed to move data around in ways that just aren't possible with Intel.

    Did you know that SPARC is more or less an "open" CPU design? It was designed to be a multi-vendor instruction set, one that would be 'common' without having one vendor calling all the shots. Read [] for more details.
    • by David Greene ( 463 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @11:11AM (#37044)
      Let's start with the whole RISC vs. CISC thing. Everyone knows that RISC is more efficient

      Really? By what measure? CISC is generally much more efficient with respect to code size, an important consideration in embedded systems.

      I'll assume you were talking about the performance domain. Be careful with your categorizations. There are no "pure" RISC or CISC designs anymore. O-O-O superscalar architectures have pretty much killed any simplicity in so-called RISC designs. Now it's true that uniform instructions make O-O-O much easier. But vector processing and multimedia operations don't really qualify as RISC in the classic sense.

      Sun has made some obvious mistakes in the past: fixed-size register windows and delay slots come to mind. Like Intel/HP they have in the past made the mistake of thinking that the compiler can do more than it really can (at least at this point). Parallelism is hard enough to extract at run time. It's much more difficult at compile time. Some of this has to do with maintaining the separate compilation model and speed/memory complexity issues (many compiler algorithms are NP-complete).

      And of course, all CPU vendors except Intel/HP have made the mistake of having an inadequate number of general-purpose registers. Ironic, eh? :)

      That's not to say the compiler can't do more. It can do a lot. Unfortunately, CPU vendors have not provided the necessary hardware to make this possible. In the future you will see a style much more similar to IA-64: the hardware and compiler conspiring together to extract parallelism, save power, etc.

      Here's something to think about: the original intent of RISC was to allow simpler pipeline stages and higher clock speeds. So why does a CPU implementing a CISC-ish ISA have a 50% higher clock rate than a RISC-ish ISA implementation? Deeper pipeline, sure. But don't let labels fool you. There is much more going on in the architecture world.

      I do agree with you on the scalability issues of SPARC systems. That's their bread and butter.

  • by Splatta ( 7993 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:09AM (#28534) Journal
    The UltraSPARCIII chips running at "only" 900mhz is still much faster than a Pentium class chip running at equivalent speeds. This is completely different architecture than x86.
    • The UltraSPARCIII chips running at "only" 900mhz is still much faster than a Pentium class chip running at equivalent speeds.

      Based on what data? Are they faster all around... in every type of computation? I doubt it. I'm sure they are much faster at some types of instructions, and I'd take a Sun over an Intel machine any day, but the performance depends on what types of programs you're running (and how many people are going to be running them at the same time.)

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Although they're supposed to compete with Intel's Itanium chips, they only run at 900MHz ... for now." Itanium only run at 733 or 800MHz
    • by aheitner ( 3273 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:43AM (#13886)
      Hmm, Not really.

      I mean, yeah, they're totally different. And they're faster clock-per-clock (with added benefit to FP stuff).

      But a 1.4GHz Athlon blows away a 7-800MHz UltraII for most kinds of computation. A 1 GHz Athlon seems to be about (42, 29) on the (retired) SPECint95/SPECfp95. A 450Mhz Ultra-II (not Ultra-IIi, I'm looking at results for an SPARCstation Ultra-60) gets about (20, 27). That's a bit faster int clock-per-clock, and a lot faster FP. Note that for practical stuff (databases, web, whatever) int is more important. Of course benchmarks are hard to interpret, but this gives you an idea. All the SPEC benchmarks are available at Of course there are no Ultra-III results, but I'm guessing it's not going to be 2x as fast as the best x86s (at least I'll wait to see the results before I believe it).

      You use a Sun because you want an architecture that will scale smoothly up to 64-way (I *guarantee* that will be faster than any single x86 machine).

      Actually if you want to both go fast at the low end and scale well, you can buy an RS/6000 -- IBMs Power3 and Power4 chips are absurdly fast and scale very well (and actually focus on memory bandwidth for database performance). But a bottom-of-the-line Sun is a lot cheaper than the cheapest RS/6000.

      Full disclosure: I work for IBM (in software) and I've seen a good bit of internal stuff about IBM chips, esp. the upcoming Power4. Most of that information has now been published in MicroProcessor Review and is now publicly available, I think you'll find it if you poke around...

      (even more amusing full disclosure: I'm a huge fan of old Sun stuff, their machines are beautifully engineered. i use a couple old 32bit sparcs for all kinds of things)
      • You use a Sun because you want an architecture that will scale smoothly up to 64-way (I *guarantee* that will be faster than any single x86 machine).

        Or if you want a machine that was designed and built by engineers, not by a 14-year-old in his basement (or the Dell equivalent thereof).

        I'm not a huge fan of Solaris, but Sun hardware is good stuff. I think SGI hardware is better stuff, or used to be before SGI decided it would be fun to implode.

        You buy Sun if you want scalability and reliability. You buy Intel if money is an issue.

      • I think the UltraSPARC III is about 2-3 years late to the table.

        The old RISC hardware chips are dying off slowly since they can't afford the build the kind of expensive Fabs that are needed to compete with Intel and AMD.

        Except IBM, of course. I did read something about the Power4 [] (see also this pdf [] ) and its emphasis on maximizing memory BW - some of the figures sounded awesome. I was really looking forward to being able to pick and choose between Power4 and 21364(pdf) [], but Compaq seems to have throttled the Alpha. As if the IA-64 is better!

        For scalability, though, I have to wonder if rack-mounted Alpha4's connected with high-speed interfaces like Myrinet could provide an alternative to hardware like a Sun ES10000. I haven't tried Scyld or MOSIX to know if they make using such clusters a "smoothly scalable" solution. The big Sun SMP machines are nice, but they're also expensive and the aging UltraSPARC II processors are nothing to write home about anymore.

        • I also noticed (over the past few years) that Sun has been leaning on the UltraII since like 1999.

          Back then they were way ahead of the game, since Intel/AMD were doing about a quarter their current clock speed, while Sun was doing about half.

          I wonder what happened :)
        • The Ultra III was only started about 7 years ago, if I correctly remember the info that I got when I worked at Sun. It was released after 6 years of development, only a year behind schedule. Frankly, I don't understand you arguments of why the Ultra's and RISC processors are going to die.

          Although I agree that the Alpha and the MIPS that SGI uses are going out. Also there is, or at least was, a planned kill date for the PA-RISC chips that HP uses. Those have evidence but the IBM Power series and the Sun Ultra series still seem to sell very well. Companies still need very large machines to take care of business, and the big players still use RISC architecture, architecture that scales.

          The IA-64 has had major problems, and is several years late. Sun has pulled its support of the IA-64 chips even after they proved that Solaris 8 runs without a hitch on them because they realize that there is nothing to worry about right now. There are huge performance problems, and being a brand new architecture, it will have to go through several generations before the bugs are worked out. Meanwhile the Ultra chips have a reputation of having the fewest number of bugs upon release.
          The big SMP machines may start to make more of a come back. The idea of having applications on the net and having bare bones machines in peoples homes is the directions that I see all of the major players going. The best machines to handle large loads are not x86 style machines but the "slow" work horses that today are all RISC.

          Aging Ultra II processors may be nothing to write home about but they work, and work, and work. The chip is and more importantlyand more importantlystable, and reliable, and so is the OS. People can depend on their ability to handle large loads, even if they are not exactly the fastest things out there.

          Rack mounted Alpha's could most likely handle the load of the Sun ES10000, but there are several drawbacks. First you have to deal with Alpha's, which, althought are amazing machines, have issues of lack of support and development, and frankly are very expensive. I am currently working in a High Energy Physics lab with huge numbers of relatively new Alphas and trying to find software that is not a rev or two behind the other UNICes is difficult. On top of that the Ultra 60 that was purchased was a much better deal with better support. Alpha clusters are powerful but a
          multiprocessor Sun box will do a more effecient job because the processors are designed for it.
      • by emil ( 695 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @10:03AM (#43478)

        As you implied, SMP performance is extremely important to people who buy Sun.

        In this case, you wouldn't care much how an individual processor performed; you are most concerned with the performace of, say, a 32-way system and it's ability to quickly shuttle data between processors, memory, and disk.

        Our beloved Athlon only scales to 2-way, and it's SMP architecture is now being entirely redesigned with the NUMA hypertransport.

        Sun probably suffers in raw MHz and SPEC scores because they put so much effort into the SMP aspects.

        And, of course, Sun outsells some (arguably) better technology (Power, Alpha) because they are much more open and their service organization is superior.

    • And it doesn't enable the Internet either.

      I'm a little surprised a technical web site would fall for the pure marketing hype. Next we're going to have an article complaining that the Ultra SPARC IIIs run only at 900 MHz and can't play the new space cadet game []. That is a fun game it wasnt free but it was worth the money.

    • 18 comments in and somebody caught that. Bugs the hell out of me when I see that in a chip review. Maybe someone will invent a 3ghz chip next week that uses 4 t states for every internal cycle (read 750mhz). I'll bet the press would hype it up and the investors would pour in the money, and we'd all be rich before we had to get it out of the fab... hold that thought
  • Alternatively, read this [].
  • by fmaxwell ( 249001 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @09:19AM (#29004) Homepage Journal
    I have seen various generalizations in this thread about RISC vs. CISC, Intel vs. Sun, etc. It makes no sense to compare a Sun running Solaris to an Pentium/Athlon running Windows 9X/ME/NT/2000/. When you consider that even a $35 Duron running at 750mhz is executing 2 BILLION instructions per second, a better question is "where is all of that horsepower going??!!" It is going into bloated, overly-complex, overly-layered code. Things that should have been written in assembly language have been written in high-level languages.

    Just look at the requirements to run the various Windows OSs. When Windows 95 came out, the bare minimum to run it was a 386DX at 33mhz, 4MB RAM, and a 100MB hard drive. Windows ME requires, at a minimum, a 150mhz Pentium, 32MB of RAM, and 480MB of hard drive space. The RAM requirements have quadrupled, the hard drive space has gone up by a factor of five, and CPU power has gone up by somewhere around a factor of 10. (I know that there is some disagreement about what the actual minimums are, but I believe these to be in the ballpark and they illustrate my point.)

    So, if you want to find out what the CPU is capable of, dump the OS, write an application that taxes the CPU, and run it on each. (No, you do not need an OS to run a program.) Until you do that, you're just tossing around meaningless numbers.

    • Would the moderator that modded my message down please explain to me how it was "Offtopic"? It was about the comparisons being made between the new Sun Ultrasparc III CPU and the Intel stuff. Other moderators thought it was "interesting" and "informative." So what bug crawled up your butt and made you mod it down as "Offtopic"?

      P.S. I now have "only" 49 karma points. You've injured me to the core! hehehe

    • bloated, overly-complex, overly-layered code. Things that should have been written in assembly language have been written in high-level languages.
      You're assuming that hand-coded assembly language is always tighter than code generated by a compiler. That depends on the skill of the assembly programmer and the quality of the compiler. How many machine-level hackers can outcode a good optimizing compiler?

      Windows is bloated because MS piles feature onto feature. The features don't work together, so there's a lot of implementation redundancy. If something goes wrong, a kludgy fix is added, making things worse. Everything gets totally redesigned every 6 months, so there's a lot of backward-compatibility support -- more implementation redundancy.

      • How many good optimising compilers do you know of?
        • How many good optimising compilers do you know of?

          Sun's, to name one - it does an excellent job of not only standard optimizations, but also understanding what optimizations work to take full advantage of the UltraSPARC architecture, including the UPA and the other switching interconnects inside Sun boxes. (Remember, folks, Intel & AMD are archaic in this regard, REAL computer companies like Sun and IBM gave up buses in favor of switches for in-box interconnects years ago. That's the reason middling Sun boxes crank the I/O equivalent of the mainframes of a couple of years ago, more than Intel boxes can even dream of. (I know, I'm currently trying to get high performance I/O on an Intel platform (for software reasons), and it's darn near impossible - the I/O architecture is just garbage. If I could use a Suns or RS/6000s for this app, I could save a lot of money, and more grief.

          There's a reason people are willing to part with all that money for big Unix boxes: It's that they're simply capable of doing (and thus cheaper for) the seriously heavy duty jobs. And no, Beowulf clusters don't help I/O, before anyone suggests that... :-)
  • by Prof. Pi ( 199260 ) on Wednesday August 01, 2001 @08:39AM (#43481)
    As I'm sure many have pointed out, raw clock speed isn't the only determinant of performance. Other architectural features play a BIG role. Two advantages for Sparc:

    • Sparcs (and other RISC processors) have more general-purpose registers, especially in floating point. Hence, big loops generate fewer "spills" (temporarily storing a reg to memory/cache because you need that reg for another intermediate calculation).
    • The Sparc architecture has a more efficient calling mechanism (register windows)

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