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Sun primes Jalapeno as McKinley killer

Is UltraSPARC IIIi the Iceberg under Itanic?

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Perhaps not everybody in Sun's strategic planning team is a regular Reg reader. How else to explain the fact that Sun has taken the threat of Itanic seriously enough to give its entire low-end multiprocessor strategy a radical revamp. Yes, stop giggling there at the back. Not only has Sun primed a policy of sharing components between high- and low-end systems to cut costs, it's got a Celeron of its own in the wings for UltraSPARC III. Of sorts.

Of course while Itanic made its wobbly way down the slipway to its current, icy living death, UltraSPARC III has had more than a few false starts of its own. The delays are evident: Daktari workgroup servers and the Serengeti midrange should have debuted last year. Serengeti (not the COMA version) crept out in March, and Daktari and Cherrystone are imminent, as we report here. In the meantime Sun has grappled with cache problems and supply shortages.

Now if volume economics alone made for success in enterprise chips, Chipzilla's rivals would have packed up and gone home by now. But it isn't as simple as that. The fabless models Compaq, Sun and HP persist with aren't particularly price sensitive, so long as the systems cut the mustard. But price does matter at the low end.

If McKinley lives up to its specs, it ought to pose a threat to low-end RISC. And Sun is the only enterprise vendor without strong IA-64 commitments of its own. It has ported Solaris to Itanic, but apparently locked the porting team in the cupboard and lost the key: the port will be available to customers who ask for it, officially.

Enter UltraSPARC IIIi, codenamed Jalapeno. It's built to trump McKinley, running at the higher clock frequency of 1.4GHz. It's copperific, and built on a 0.13 micron process. There's 1MB of Level 2 cache, considerably less than beefy midrange rivals, and that cache is limited to 1MB. But it has taped out, meaning el cheapo MP boxes should be ready as Sun's first big box launch of 2002. It could conceivably get to market sooner, giving more time for Jalapeno revs in the future. Either way, Sun has a few price/performance boasts up its sleeve for a McKinley roll-out.

Make no mistake, Chipzilla is keeping its marketing dollars dry for this one: while Merced crept out like a Nun, McKinley will roar out like a drunken bishop on a stag night. And you know what that's like. Don't you?

We can't confirm if UltraSPARC IIIi uses J-BUS, the interconnect introduced at the embedded show a fortnight ago, or bog-standard PC DDR memory as rumoured. But it has taped out, apparently. More details? Brown envelopes to the usual address, please. ®

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