Sun warns of data corruption problem with UltraSPARC III

Firmware update fix will result in performance hit

A potential data corruption problem involving kit based on Sun's UltraSPARC III processor means hardware needs to be updated with a patch that will impact the performance of some applications.

An internal notice on the issue, which has been leaked to The Register, warns: "The SunBlade 1000 [workstation] is affected by a potential data corruption problem involving the prefetch pipeline. This problem is totally alleviated with a firmware update, that will ship with all new systems as of March 14."

SunFire 280R low-end servers will also need to be patched in the field because of the issue but Serengeti mid-range servers, which were introduced last month, will ship with a firmware patch in place.

Sun spokesman Larry Lettieri said that in a "rare set of circumstances" the problem meant that there could be problems with floating point calculations. To get around the issue Sun is issuing a patch that turns off the prefetch pipeline, a feature of the UltraSPARC III chip which tries to retrieve instruction it is most likely to need next.

However, as Sun's own notice admits, this "firmware update has a performance impact that will affect some applications".

Lettieri downplayed the impact of this on customers but wasn't able to tell us immediately which applications would be affected, or to what extent users would see a performance hit. He said Sun and its partners will be contacting customers about the issue to advise them on what action to take.

There were widespread reports of delays and difficulties in meeting demand for kit based on the UltraSparc III, since its introduction in a workstation and low-end server last September. It now looks like slow shipments of the SunBlade 1000 and SunFire 280R are a blessing in disguise because it means fewer firms will be affected by the issue.

Every cloud has a silver lining, even for an outfit called Sun... ®

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