Sun has shown off prototypes of "Victoria Falls", a multiprocessor variant of the "Niagara 2" chip, promising systems based on the processor in the first half of 2008.

The company said Victoria Falls had taped out in October, meaning the design is complete, with initial silicon received from Texas Instruments, which is manufacturing the chip.

Victoria Falls is intended to be a significant step forward in Sun's chip strategy, which is aimed at putting more cores on each chip and multiple chips in each server. The first generation of "Niagara", officially branded the UltraSparc T1, has eight cores and has been shipping in servers for a year.

Single-chip Niagara 2 servers are to ship in the second half of this year, followed by next year's multiprocessor Victoria Falls systems, Sun has said. Niagara blades are planned for the first half of this year, with Victoria Falls blades set for the same launch window as conventional Victoria Falls servers, Sun said.

Sun has seized on the trend towards multicore, multiprocessing systems as a way of regaining its edge in the server industry, and has gone further than competitors in the number of threads each core can handle.

Niagara 2 and Victoria Falls chips can execute eight threads per core, compared to half that from the likes of IBM, Intel and AMD.

In October, the company said 60 percent of the trial units of Niagara had been ordered by new customers, indicating the company is gaining market share from rivals such as IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium high-performance microprocessor architectures.

Sun is offering Niagara to the market through its OpenSparc programme, in which specifications of the microprocessor are being shared in an open-source community with hardware and software developers. The OpenSparc community introduced in July a new Linux distribution, Gentoo Linux, which supports UltraSparc T1 in the latest release of its open source operating system.

The Niagara line is destined for lower-end servers, but earlier this month, Sun said it was moving forward with plans to develop a processor with as many as 16 cores on one piece of silicon, aimed at high-end servers. The company said that it had taped out the coming "Rock" processor it expects to have ready for market in the second half of 2008.

"The trend in the industry is to the multi-core processor, but Sun has invested fairly early in this," said Jean Bozman, an industry analyst with the research firm IDC, at the time of the Rock announcement. Bozman said Sun has been on a more ambitious development path than others.

Robert Mullins of IDG News Service contributed to this report.