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Sun conjures MAJC in high-end graphics bid

Parks scooters on SGI's lawn

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Sun's wonder chip MAJC, announced at Microprocessor Forum in the fall of 1999, finally makes it out of the lab this week, and it's the centre of Sun's bid to eat into SGI's high end graphics business.

The chip itself, which we last mentioned a year ago (see Chip designers vow to cool overheating Gelsinger), is two-core 64bit VLIW processor rated at over 6 Gigaflops (billions of floating point instructions per second). Which is downright scary. At the announcement back in 1999, Marc Tremblay, who helped design the UltraSPARC, pitched the chip at set top boxes and multimedia applications, claiming that the MAJC had enough horsepower to decode two MPEG streams in software, and still leave half the cycles free for voice recognition. But the STB manufacturers stayed loyal to MIPS and POWERPC, and it's in a new graphics processor that MAJC finally gets to see light of day.

It powers the new XVR1000 graphics card in the Sun Blade 2000 workstation, also announced this week. The card uses the old UPA graphics bus, clocked to 150Mhz. The card itself comes with 256MB of texture memory, (360MB in all) is capable of processing 24m triangles per second, and 30bit colour (through a 116-Bit-Per-Pixel framebuffer). Most interestingly there's three channels of video out, an innovation SGI pioneered and exploited. And there's also a new, highly desirable 24 inch LCD, running at the same 1920x1200 resolution as the LCDs that accompany low-end Onyx's.

So there's no mistake that Sun is parking its scooters on the lawn of SGI's Amphitheater Boulevard HQ.

SGI wasn't available for comment today, but last week we saw a demo (write-up to follow) of the SGI Vizserver technology down in the Mountain View "RealityCenter", which streams multiple channels of output over IP to any client device. It's very impressive, and is can certainly claim to be unique right now. (Vizserver uses an ICA-like streaming protocol, but without the diffing or clever region updates that Citrix uses. It compresses each frame buffer on the fly, decompressing it at the other end. Doing the region updates would require specialist hardware, we're told).

The markets both SGI and Sun are gunning for include oil and gas exploration, design and manufacturing, and these are collaborative environments. They're also SGI Onyx strongholds, but in typically combative fashion, Sun's Bjorn Andersson, who market workstations graphics and displays, claims that Sun already has "80 or 90 per cent" of the desktops in oil and gas sectors, for example. Where the real work is being done on these scooters, or on the Onyx servers, is another matter, however. But Sun claims to have roasted the low-end SGI workstations with a SPECfp2000 rating of 827, 132 per cent faster than the Octane2.

(SGI launched its newer Onyx 300s at the tail-end of January).

Sun doesn't have a graphics server to match the Onyx 3000, and so its strategy seems to be to encircle the SGI Reality Centers with spiffy workstations. It makes for an interesting contest.

For the record, the SunBlade comes in several flavors: the base $10,995 model comes with a single 900Mhz copper USIII, 1GB of RAM, and what Sun calls a "20th Anniversary Celebration Edition" (presumably in honor of Watford's heroic progress to the FA Cup Final that year) features two Gigazherz USIIIs two disks and more memory. Both versions include four PCI and two UPA slots. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

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