Sun Microsystems is set to launch its UltraSparc T1 chip - previously code-named Niagara. The multi-threaded, multicore processor had been due to appear early in 2006.

The company is positioning the new chip as "the world's first eco-responsible processor" due to its low power consumption.

Details on pricing and the new line of Sun Fire servers that will be powered by the new processor are set to be revealed on 6 December at Sun's quarterly product launch, according to Fred Kohout, vice president of marketing for Sun's scalable systems group. The UltraSparc T1 should ship in volume in the new servers before year-end, he said. Sun recently came under fire for delays in ramping up the volume of shipments of its Galaxy servers, which use AMD's Opteron processor.

Kohout stressed the "clean-sheet" design of the UltraSparc T1, an effort Sun embarked on four years ago. "We've simplified the design point and increased the throughput at a very low power consumption," he said.

In an interview last week in London, Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy explained the early appearance of the new chip as a direct result of creating a brand-new design versus trying to re-engineer an existing processor. He also said that the UltraSparc T1 would use the same hardware as Galaxy.

"Niagara is the first purpose-built processor for the network services age," Kohout said. "It's the first 'rack on a chip.'"

The new chip incorporates Sun's patented CoolThreads multithreading technology and will be available in four-, six- and eight-core implementations running at a clock speed of either 1GHz or 1.2GHz, according to Kohout. The eight-core implementation will be able to process 32 different tasks simultaneously, he said, since each core can handle four software threads. The UltraSparc T1 consumes about 70 watts of power, much less than Intel Corp.'s Xeon processors or IBM Corp.'s Power chips, Kohout added. The Sun processor has four on-board memory controllers, he said.

"This is going to be a cross-over product," Kohout said, suggesting the new chip may have appeal to non-Sparc users. "Regardless of the vertical industry, they all have racks and racks of highly inefficient CPUs," he added. "UltraSparc T1 is the next consolidation engine."

"Power and cooling are key issues right now," Vernon Turner, group vice president and general manager of IDC's Enterprise Computing group, said, adding that the timing of Niagara's launch may draw interest from non-Sparc customers interested in lowering their utility bills.

Winning non-Sparc customers would "bring Sun the ability to upsell into Solaris and Java," Turner said. He did question Monday's launch, which occurs as Sun hosts a discussion on eco-friendly chip design in San Francisco. "It's unusual to have a product launch that's not about feeds and speeds," Turner said. Sun will be fielding its Chief Technology Officer Greg Papadopoulos and Marc Tremblay, vice president and chief architect of the company's scalable systems group at the event.

The UltraSparc T1 processor is being manufactured by Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) to Sun's specifications, Kohout said. The chip will be the second Sun chip to be made using a 90-nanometer production process. Sun released its UltraSparc IV+ processor, previously code-named Panther, in September, the first of the company's processors to be made by TI using the 90-nanometer process.