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Ex-Intel, Sun chip guru brewing multichip SPARC

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Sun Microsystems has a closer connection to Afara Websystems, its most recent acquisition, than we realized last week.

One of Afara's co-founders is Les Kohn, one of the designers of Intel's i860 and i960 RISC chips, NatSemi's 320xx Swordfish and the UltraSPARC-I.

The secretive start-up won't say what it's doing, but announcing the news last week Sun's VP of microprocessors and network products David Yen said that it was a SPARC licensee and would be unveiling "highly innovative" boxes quite soon.

The Silicon Valley rumor mill suggests that Afara has built a multi-chip, multi-processor SPARC chip for its new networking box.

This is an approach apparently adopted by almost all the network processor vendors, but Afara's will be distinguished by being the only high-end SPARC-based offering. Which makes it fairly unique. T.sqware (which was acquired by Globespan a couple of years ago) built a low-end SPARC derivative called SPARClet, which hasn't been seen since. (All Globespan Viridana's current processors appear to be ARM based).

"A multi-chip, multi-processor SPARC may not win any SPEC benchmarks, but it would likely do very well in both price/performance and power/performance comparisons in things like server blades," a Valley mole tell us.

Kohn worked for Intel from 1982 to 1989. Between leaving Sun in 1994 and starting Afara, Kohn was chief architect at C-Cube, designing digital video compression chips.

We left a message with the great man, but strongly suspect that we won't be hearing back. You don't get to wear the "secretive start-up" mantle by blabbing to the likes of us. ®

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