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.

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