The Register claims to have learnt that the next version of Niagara processors from Sun Microsystems is going to be a 16-core and 16-thread/core processor. This means that the Niagara 3 will be doing 256 threads simultaneously. And we aren’t talking of some distant future plan, but Sun Microsystems will be releasing these processors in 2009.
If you did not know, Sun Microsystems has been selling the Niagara 2 processors which can run 64 threads simultaneously on 8-core processor. Niagara 2 is officially sold as UltraSPARC T2+ chips and has been the most successful processors from Sun’s lineup in recent years. Obviously with so many threads running simultaneously on a single chip means that the performance is screaming and is excellent value for money. There are 2 socket systems available as well as 4-socket systems with UltraSPARC T2+. Then there is also the Rock processors coming in 2009.
From what I heard 2 years back, UltraSPARC had the largest processor design team in the world. So it comes as no surprise that it has the best design and performance in multithreaded systems. They also open-sourced their older SPARC designs as part of OpenSPARC.net and have pledged to continue opensourcing the next-gen processors as well!!
But the sad thing is that UltraSPARC Tx processors haven’t been as big a hit in the HPC and supercomputer market. If you have a look at the list of top supercomputers for June 2008, you will realize that Sun Microsystems just figures once on the top 10. It features in the top 10 for Texas Advanced Computing Center at University of Texas and uses AMD’s Opteron processors and not UltraSPARC. In all of the 500 supercomputers, IBM rules the roost with 209 systems and HP comes second with 183 systems. IBM has been able to push POWER processors to build some awesome supercomputers whereas HP has taken Xeon and built powerful systems around it. Sun Microsystems on the other hand has just 4 supercomputer systems and all are with Opterons.
Most people would argue that single core performance proves to be more effective than multi-threaded performance in conventional supercomputer software and benchmarks. Processes are more common units of work than threads itself, but that’s where the overall system building plays its part. Like Seymour Cray has stated, “Anyone can build a fast CPU. The trick is to build a fast system.”