Computer Business Review

SUN TAPS LSI FOR LOW-COST SPARC DESIGN AND FAB

by CBR Staff Writer| 12 March 1997

Turns out Sun Microsystems Inc went to Mips RISC foundry LSI Logic Inc for co-design and manufacture of the PCI bus version of its 32-bit microSparc IIep embedded RISC (CI No 2,895). Sun says it chose LSI because it offered the lowest cost, quickest time to market and the widest selection of design libraries and support tools. It didn't say whether it'll use LSI company to co-develop or manufacture other implementations of its RISC architecture. Sun ditched its original Sbus-based IIe design after customers demanded on-board support for PCI. Sun's microelectronics arm says the microSparc IIep is optimized for use in switching systems, copiers and printers, though its most prominent role is sure to be the company's JavaStations, those ghostly desktops which - if you can find one - currently use the Sbus-based microSparc II. That role certainly falls into line with the revised production schedules for both devices; microSparc IIep will sample at the end of this quarter and ship in volume in June. The latest information on the general availability of JavaStations suggests volume deliveries won't now begin until late summer (CI No 3,106). Sun's microelectronics arm indicates it's the microSparc IIep that the desktop hardware folk building JavaStations have been waiting for. At around $75 for 100MHz versions of microSparc IIep in quantities of 10,000-up, it also means Sun should be able to offer JavaStations significantly cheaper than the $742 tag attached to the initial device it announced last November which uses the $300 100MHz microSparc II . Sun says microSparc IIep's performance will be comparable to microSparc II, which does an estimated 1.3 SPECint95 and 1.8 SPECfp95. LSI will also manufacture a 133MHz version of the 0.35 micron part priced at $95 in quantity. OEM bundles and board- level packages including reference designs for network computer builders will be announced around the end of the month. Sun's previously identified the cost of a first-generation Network Computer Reference Profile-compliant device using microSparc IIep at between $500 and $1,000 with 4Mb to 8Mb RAM, audio I/O, a network port and display, a browser and downloaded applets, plus a keyboard and mouse on a desktop device (CI No 2,942). A base JavaA1 platform would be priced at around $615 according to its sums. A JavaA2 platform would use $25-to-$50 microJava processors and come in at around $445 as Java-on-tin immediately reduces CPU power, flash and RAM requirements. Sun says Wind River VxWorks, Chorus and Japan's I-Tron embedded operating systems will be ported to the processor by the third quarter. The Sun's desktop group building JavaStations is expected to have JavaOS up on the thing in short order, while there's no schedule for Solaris on the part yet.

Migration to PCI

Although Sun has not said publicly how the 64-bit Sparc V9 architecture will be implemented in its low-cost, embedded silicon, we're supposed to understand the logical thing to do would be to calve a 200MHz microSparc IIIep design from the PCI bus-based UltraSparc i due to ship later this year (CI No 3,022). UltraSparc i, being built by NEC Corp, and once identified as microSparc III, will supposedly reduce system cost by integrating main memory and system bus interfaces - it retains a slave implementation of Sun's proprietary UltraSparc Port Architecture bus for graphics but not for memory - and supporting lower-cost memory chips. The part is seen as the beginning of Sun's migration to PCI bus across its workstation lines. Sun has previously collaborated with LSI on video compression, and uses an LSI switch in some experimental interconnect work. In the early 1990s LSI worked with Hyundai Electronic America Inc's Metaflow Technologies on a Sparc CPU called Lightning which never made it to market.

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