Report: Sun Micro to Scrap Big Chip Project

The ambitious Rock multicore processor may now be as fractured as the computer firm itself

2 min read

Beleaguered Sun Microsystems, the target of a current takeover deal, will scuttle its work on a new processor that had been intended to move the company into a profitable future, according to a report in today's New York Times.
The newspaper is reporting that unnamed insiders familiar with Sun's planning for the future have disclosed that the Santa Clara, Calif., computer maker will pull the plug on its ambitious multicore processor for next-generation servers code-named Rock.

After working on the Rock chip for more than five years, Sun may be ready to walk away from the expensive design process needed to finish the chip just as its executives are readying to turn over the reins of the company to leadership being filled by Oracle Corp., which has bid US $7.4 billion to acquire the ailing firm (please see Bolt from the Blue: Oracle, Not IBM, Captures Sun Micro).

While Sun CEO Jonathan Schwarz boasted two years ago that the Rock project would return his firm to profitability, the reality has been that the processor has been more difficult to perfect than anticipated, leading to a series of delays in its development.

Ironically for us at IEEE Spectrum, we've just published an article on the technical merits of the Rock processor (please see Sun's Rock CPU Could Be a Gem for Oracle). The new chip (which now may never see the light of day) was to have featured 16 processor cores employing a revolutionary technique for moving data around called transactional memory, which enables programs running on the chip to read from and write to memory registers more easily and rapidly.  

How today's news will play into the ongoing takeover discussions is an open question, but it seems clear that Sun would not have taken such a significant step without consulting Oracle's management.

And so it goes for the once-proud Sun, as it gets ready to set into the twilight.

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper
Green

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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