RealTime IT News

Sun, TI Unveil Copper Interconnect-based UltraSPARC III

With help from long-time partner Texas Instruments Inc. , Sun Microsystems Inc. is taking its UltraSPARC III 64-bit workstation-server processor -- unveiled last fall -- to a new level as it migrates the chip to high volume copper interconnect-based versions.

The two companies unveiled the new chip -- built with TI's 0.15 micron process -- Tuesday, adding that it has passed all internal qualification tests and is planned for shipment in Sun's Sun Blade 1000 workstations within the next 90 days.

The new 900 MHz processor combines copper interconnect with low-K dielectric and a 100 nanometer gate transistor, enabling a clock speed increase while dissipating the same amount of power as the aluminum interconnect technology used in the 750 MHz UltraSPARC III chip.

"Implementing copper, low-K dielectric and a new transistor deliver a triple play in giving us enhanced flexibility to field new variations of the UltraSPARC III chip that offer higher clock speeds, lower power consumption, greater reliability, lower memory latency and other features essential for workstation and server computing," said David Yen, vice president and general manager of the Sun Microsystems Processor Products Group. ""While clock frequency speed bumps have their benefits, working with TI, we focus our engineering program on developing processors that deliver real-world application performance and end-customer value."

One of those benefits is a reduction in manufacturing costs and improvements in reliability. Because the copper interconnect technology consumes less power, it reduces the need to build extensive heat management subsystems into products.

Analysts like what they're hearing, and suggest that the move to copper interconnect puts Sun on better footing to compete with IBM Corp., the 800 lbs. gorilla on the block.

"Sun continues to migrate its product line to new UltraSPARC III offerings, with the most difficult part of the transition behind the company," said Goldman Sachs & Co. Analyst Laura Conigliaro. "Both the new product line and the Sun/TI announcement of 900 MHz copper chips bode well for Sun in terms of potential future demand and profitability, as these enhanced offerings will carry higher gross margins. We expect meaningful volumes of the new copper-based chips in the current quarter."

Conigliaro went on to praise Sun's move to make copper interconnect-based chips available.

"The enterprise systems market increasingly appears to be a two-player game," Conigliaro said. "We believe that the availability of a copper-based interconnect is critical for Sun from a competitive standpoint. Until recently, IBM, which has evolved into a formidable competitor for Sun, was the only company with the ability to manufacture copper chips at high yields. As we have noted previously, copper-based processors will allow Sun to offer similarly competitive chips with enhanced performance and higher clock speeds."

Conigliaro said Sun could potentially ship tens of thousands of the new chips in the current quarter and ramp to hundreds of thousands by the end of the calendar year.