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Sun's Rock chip waves goodbye to 2008 ship date

Shaky silicon eyes 2009

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You'll all be shocked to learn that Sun Microsystems appears set to delay the release of the Rock processor.

Word reached Vulture Central this week of troubles in the land of Rock. Sun hoped to ship the 16-core SPARC dynamo by the end of next year. Now, however, we're hearing that early versions of Rock have struggled to perform during testing. So now, Sun expects to ship the chip in the first half of 2009.

We asked Sun for comment on the delays and received this statement.

"Sun continues to evolve its systems portfolio on multiple fronts and early Rock chips are testing well in Sun's labs. Rock is an entirely new design and given its uniqueness and complexity, Sun is investing heavily to fully validate the chip and to do advanced testing on the entire hardware and software stack of future systems to be powered by Rock processors."

So, er, you're still committed to the 2008 delivery date then?

There's no "new guidance about timing at this point," a Sun spokeswoman told us.

Some Sun customers have received a different message. According to information obtained by El Reg, Sun representatives have been visiting select customer sites with an updated roadmap that shows Rock arriving in 2009.

In addition, a Dutch news outlet has a story quoting Sun's server chief John Fowler as saying the chip will ship in the second half of 2009. As we understand it, however, the date is an incorrect translation, and it should really be the second quarter of 2009.

Beyond the delays, we're told that Sun engineers have been forced to disable many of the more sophisticated features on early Rock test chips just to get the things to work.

All of this is very bad news for Sun, which had hoped to gain a major edge over rivals Intel and IBM by delivering an impressive Rock product to market at pace.

In the second half of 2008, Intel should release a four-core version of Itanium that includes an integrated memory controller and the QuickPath interconnect – two features which should show dramatic performance improvements. IBM will be banging away with its speedy Power6 chip and preparing a Power6+ upgrade.

The Rock design proves far more radical than either of Intel or IBM's products in that it's designed for heavily multi-threaded software and can support systems with immense amounts of memory.

Sun has a horrible history when it comes to shipping SPARC products on time. In fact, the UltraSPARC V chip was so late that Sun killed the project altogether and decided to ship servers based on chips from partner Fujitsu. ®

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