Technical details of Sun's eight-core microprocessor, codenamed Niagara, have appeared for the first time in a document outlining a discussion to be held in August over high-performance processors.
The abstract sheds some light onto the technical direction Sun is taking with Niagara and how, exactly, Sun expects to improve the processing power of the chip, while at the same time using a relatively low clock speed.
Niagara will have eight processor cores, each of which will be able to perform four independent processing tasks, or threads, at the same time. Niagara will then break these threads into binary instructions that will be executed six at a time, thanks to a "single scalar 6 stage pipeline".
The document also appears to describe a low-power processor that will run at a relatively low frequency - perhaps in the 1GHz range - and will be optimised for Web-based services, said Kevin Krewell, the editor-in-chief of The Microprocessor Report: "There are lots of threads, and those threads can be used efficiently by the short pipeline."
Niagara's efficient use of power will come, in part, from the fact that it has only six pipeline stages - far fewer, for example, than Intel's latest Pentium processor, codenamed Prescott, which contains 32 stages, Krewell said. "With the short pipeline stage, you're not wasting a lot of energy with lots of deep pipelining," he said.
From the details available, Niagara looks like it is being designed for Web service providers like Google, said Krewell. "Google's architecture might play well with this design with lots of processors in a dense package with relatively good power efficiency per processor," he said.
Texas Instruments recently began manufacturing the first Niagara chips, which are designed but not built by Sun, so Sun engineers will probably be getting their first look at Niagara around the time of the Hot Chips presentation, for which the document was produced.
Each of Niagara's processor cores will include a crypto co-processor, and each Niagara processor will have one floating point co-processor, as well as 3MB of L2 cache, the abstract states. The fact that Niagara will have one crypto co-processor for each of its eight cores, means that it will do well when performing security processing, for example sending and receiving information using the SSL protocol, Krewell said.
"Cache coherence is maintained by the L2 by means of a novel directory scheme," the abstract states. Niagara's on-chip memory controller can be used to access up to 32GB of memory using 4 channels of DDR2 memory interface over 20Gbits/s of memory bandwidth, it says.
Sun expects to begin shipping systems based on Niagara in early 2006. The abstract lists four Sun engineers, Poonacha Kongetira, Kunle Olukotun, Kathirgamar Aingaran, and James Laudon as its authors The presentation is scheduled for August 24.
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