How sexy can a rack mounted server be? What about the processor that is inside? Not very much. Unless it was designed by Sun Microsystems. I was in their city offices on Thursday and discovered their new servers with CoolThreads technology, based on the new UltraSPARC T1 processor, also known as Niagara (see also the Wikipedia article). When I first read about Niagara earlier this year, I thought it was cool technology but was really lab stuff and would not be available any time soon. Obviously Sun had other plans.
So what's this chip about then? It is an 8-core processor with 4 threads per core. This means that it has 32 simultaneous threads of execution. Compare this to the newest chips from Intel that are dual core, with 2 threads per core for a total of 4 simultaneous threads of execution. But who would need a processor that can do 32 things at the same time? Obviously it is not geared towards the personal PC or workstation market, but it is ideal for web servers and applications servers, machines that receive thousands of requests a second.
The chips are impressive when reading the spec but what really brought it home was seeing the schematic diagrams of the chip. It is pure Sun: elegant, well designed, a real work of art. If we can talk of The Art of Computer Programming, we can surely talk of The Art of Processor Design. And Sun are masters of their art. But more importantly, the direct result of such a well thought out design is that the chip is extremely resource efficient. It requires less power than other equivalent processors and doesn't heat as much. The heat chart is amazing, I wish I could find a version of it online.
Anyway, for more by Sun people themselves, see their weblogs: