Sun Microsystems claims its new UltraSPARC T2 is the world’s fastest CPU, and will double the performance of the UltraSPARC T1 without incurring any space or power consumption premium.
The T1 has been a phenomenal success for Sun since its launch in 2005, enabling the company to claw-back its credibility in the high-end server market where its sales grew 225% in the last quarter. Sun hopes the T2 – that had been code-named Niagara 2 until its launch today – will spread SPARC’s appeal into the general purpose server market, where its “mega” multi-threaded architecture hits today’s two CPU sweet-spots – power-efficiency and support for virtualisation.
The UltraSPARC T2’s power-efficiency credentials appear to set a new benchmark for the industry. Each 1.4GHz T2 supports 64 threads (eight per core), so a fully configured T2 requires just 2 Watts to drive each thread. Intel’s current quad-core Xeons draw 30 Watts per thread, and IBM’s Power6 part draws 35 Watts.
Sun executives claim SPARC’s multi-threadedness, combined with features such as an on-board memory management makes the chip an ideal virtual machine platform.
Using Sun’s own embedded hyper-visor layer, customers could theoretically allocate one thread to each of 64 individual virtual machines running against a single T2 CPU. In practice Sun warns against such dense VM implementation and encourages customers to build logical domains from multiple threads.
Compared to Intel or AMD, which are multi-core rather than multi-thread designs, UltraSPARC has threads to spare and, Sun claims, has the advantage of a native hyper-visor that reduces virtualisation-related performance overhead from the 15% to 40% common in Intel environments running VMware of Xen, to below 5%.