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Sun takes four-socket Victoria Falls Sparc plunge

The iron roars tonight

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One of the big issues for some Solaris customers is they did not want to move their applications from Solaris 8 or Solaris 9, no matter what hardware Sun delivered and no matter how cheaply Sun delivered it. Now, Sun has relatively inexpensive entry and midrange Niagara boxes and a way to support Solaris 8 and Solaris 9 applications inside Solaris 10 without forcing customers to port and recertify those apps.

With the two-socket Sparc T2+ server, Sun took a Sparc T2 chip, which has eight eight-threaded cores, and removed two on-chip memory controllers and the integrated Neptune 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports; these features were replaced with symmetric multiprocessing links that use some of the memory lanes on the processor to couple the two caches in two T2+ chips together into a two-way processor complex.

With the four-socket machines, Sun is not linking the T2+ chips together gluelessly, but with a crossbar switch code-named Zambezi. The Sparc T2+ chips have a floating point math unit for each core, plus an on-chip cryptographic processor and 4MB of L2 cache that is shared by the cores.

From the outside, the T5440 looks exactly like the Opteron-based X4600 server. It has four small-form factor disk bays, which use hot-pluggable 2.5-inch SAS drives (73GB or 146GB), mounted vertically on the right side, as well as a CD/DVD drive right next to the disks. The rest of the front is for two large fans to cool the box.

The system board in the T5440 has slots for uniboard-style processor cards (similar to the boards Sun has used in Sparc-based servers for several generations and in the X4600); from one to four of these processor cards, which have 16 memory slots each, can plug into the box.

The processor cards can be equipped with 1.2GHz or 1.4GHz Sparc T2+ chips, and the Fully Buffered DIMM main memory runs at full speed regardless if 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, or 8GB DIMMs are used. In many high-end server designs, as memory capacity goes up, the memory speed has to come down.

Using 8GB DIMMs, which are quite pricey still, the maximum memory in the box scales to 512GB, but 4GB DIMMs will be the ones most commonly chosen by customers because they are a lot cheaper, and hence the economic maximum memory is really 256GB. The T5440 has up to four hot-swap power supplies and four fans, up to eight PCI-Express x8 peripheral slots, and four Gigabit Ethernet ports.

A base configuration of the T5440 comes with two 1.2GHz T2+ chips (128 threads), 32GB of memory (using 2GB DIMMs), and two 146GB disks costs $44,995. An T5440 with four 1.2GHz chips (256 threads), 64GB of memory, and the two drives costs $79,995, while a machine with four of the faster 1.4GHz chips and 128GB of memory (using 4GB DIMMs) and two disks costs $132,995.

All the machines come with Solaris 10 bundled on them. Sun said it can ship an ordered box in nine days, and is offering its 60-day free trial on the T5440 as well.

Competing claims

Sun and IBM, which have both revamped their midrange RISC/Unix products in the past year, are making all sorts of claims on who gives the best performance and bang for the buck. Sorting out the claims will be the subject of an upcoming series of stories.

What Sun has said is that is relation to its own Sparc T platforms is that is could deliver about 1.9 times the performance when doubling up on the processor count in the Niagara machines from one to two sockets, and that moving from two to four chips it could deliver about 1.8 times the performance.

When you do the math, clock for clock, a four socket T440 will yield 3.4 times the performance of a single-socket machine - about what you would expect from SMP scalability on other boxes.®

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