Computer Business Review

Fujitsu-Siemens upgrades PrimePower Unix servers

by CBR Staff Writer| 23 June 2004

Server markers Fujitsu Ltd and Siemens AG have announced that their Fujitsu-Siemens partnership has released a faster Sparc64 V processor, running at 1.89GHz, up from 1.35GHz with the first iteration of the Sparc64 V chips, which started shipping in the PrimePower XA servers last year.

The new chips have a larger L2 cache memory, and together with the crank on the clock, PrimePower XA customers can expect a big boost in performance.

The 1.35GHz versions of the Sparc64 V chips are implemented in a 130 nanometer copper process and are made by Fujitsu's chip labs in Japan. The faster Sparc64 V chips announced this week use a 90 nanometer process that adds low-k dielectric techniques, which help chips run more efficiently and thus cooler.

According to last year's roadmaps, Fujitsu was planning on getting a 1.62GHz Sparc64 V, based on its 130 nanometer process, out the door in late 2003 or early 2004, but decided to skip it and go to the 90 nanometer process. The 90 nanometer process allows Fujitsu to boost the L2 cache size from 2MB to 3MB, and this is a significant contributing factor in the boost in performance for the PrimePower XA systems.

Richard McCormack, vice president of product and solutions marketing for the partnership's Fujitsu Computer Systems unit in North America (which is based in the old Amdahl mainframe unit in Sunnyvale, California), says that customers can expect a performance boost of about 35%; on a number of benchmark tests that have already been run on the PrimePower servers using the faster chips, performance increases compared with the 1.35GHz processors are even higher.

McCormack says that the 1.89GHz chip will begin shipping in September for the eight-way PrimePower 650 and 16-way PrimePower 850 servers. The chips will be available in the PrimePower 900 (16-way) and 1500 (32-way) models around December. Customers who use the slower 1.35GHz in the PrimePower Sparc64 V processors in their servers will be able to mix and match their existing processors with the new 1.89GHz chips in the same frames. In the high-end, 128-way PrimePower 2500 servers, the existing Sparc64 V chips run at 1.3GHz, and the future chips will run at 1.82GHz. The 1.82GHz chips will also be available in the PrimePower 2500 in December.

With the delivery of the faster Sparc64 V chips, Fujitsu is the first of the RISC/Unix vendors to get a processor out the door using 90 nanometer processes. But Intel will be rolling out the workstation version of its Nocona Xeon DP chip (the first Xeon with 64-bit memory extensions) next week, which will be quickly followed by a server version of the chip. Advanced Micro Devices will also be trying to get its next generation of Opterons, the SledgeHammer-IIs, using a 90 nanometer process, out the door at about the same time.

IBM is not expected to get to 90 nanometer until the Power5+ generation of chips in 2005, Hewlett-Packard has moved to Itanium, and Sun Microsystems has just teamed with Fujitsu and Siemens to blend the PrimePower and UltraSparc servers into a single product line called, boringly enough, the Advanced Product Line. Sun will undoubtedly use 90 nanometer chip processes, but not on monolithic chips like the UltraSparcs, but rather on seriously multithreaded chips like the future Niagara (32 thread, eight Sparc cores) and Rock (probably double the threads or cores) processors the company has decided to focus on as it partners with Fujitsu and Siemens.

Pricing for the new Sparc64 V processors has not been set yet, but Fujitsu-Siemens will absolutely increase the price/performance of the PrimePowers with the chips, McCormack says. If that doesn't sound like a big price cut for PrimePower servers, that's because it probably isn't. Pricing at the high end of the Unix server market is all over the place anyway and is dependent on so many factors that a price list seems almost useless. Almost. Remember, a price list sets a ceiling above which prices cannot be raised for hardware, and that is a very useful thing.

Fujitsu has plans to ramp up the speed on the Sparc64 V chips to around 2.16GHz, and has said in the past that it can raise the speed of the chips to around 2.4GHz and could boost L2 cache size to as much as 6MB. That's a reasonable cushion as Fujitsu and Sun work on the APL product line, which will use the dual-core Sparc64 VI processor, also implemented in a 90 nanometer processor. That chip is expected to be done in late 2005 or early 2006 and will be available in a revamped PrimePower frame in 2006.

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