Intel on Quad-core vs. UltraSPARC

SPARC lights no fire says the chip vendor's blog.

I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying the IT@Intel blog. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve seen posts about how the culture of Intel — and IT in general — is too focused on performance and Eleanor Wynn’s attempt to explain information technology themes in the context of Martin Heidegger (That is, once you get past her largely inaccessible first paragraph. “xtreme weight loss program and reappending appendages from one place to another” Huh?) All-in-all it’s considerably more interesting than one would think an official Intel blog would be.

As an added bonus, they’ve opened up comments and that’s where something interesting came up on a quad-core post by Sudip Chahal.

The post itself doesn’t really shed any new light on quad-core technology but Sudip does a excellent job of responding when someone asks him to compare Intel’s quad-cores with SUN’s UltraSPARC processors with CoolThreads technology, 8 cores, and 32 accessible threads on a single chip.

b. Additionally, if the application is not very multi-threaded e.g., some batch jobs or optimizer solvers, then the Sun solution is simply not competitive as its cores are very simple and much lower performance on an individual core basis as compared with the Intel Clovertown Core 2 micro-architecture based cores.

That, it turns out, is pretty easy to verify. AnandTech put Intel Duo Woodcrest Xeons up against SUN’s 8-core UltraSPARCs back in June and Intel whipped SUN handily in Apache/PHP/MySQL processing, Java webserving, and every other category where they compared the two processors.

Sudip also had something to say about software.

c. While the Sun solution can deliver good performance for �throughput� applications (heavily multi-threaded applications) – the point remains that the applications have to be SPARC applications and not x86 applications which is where the vast majority of the software market is.

And that’s a pretty big point. SUN can pack as many threads as they like into a chip but if the apps aren’t written to take full advantage of the infrastructure, it’s moot.

Take Linux, for example. I talked with SUN engineers at OracleWorld earlier this year about their Fire servers and their comment was Linux in it’s current form probably couldn’t use all the threads on even one of the UltraSPARC chips.

Which is another way of saying Linux would probably run better on something else.

While this looks like a post comparing processors, that was just the set-up. It’s really about software development and the challenges facing developers next year on the new infrastructure available. A sentence in the AnandTech article linked above sums that idea up well when talking about the UltraSPARC T1s.

PostGreSQL and MySQL scale better on Solaris than they do on Linux, but both RDBMS have trouble scaling over multiple cores.

Do you know how to scale your application across multiple cores?

The shift in thinking required to go from traditional programming to multi-threaded programming was described to me by one vendor recently as “Herculean” and will make the challenge that developers faced of moving from procedural to Object-Orientated Programming several years back “look like child’s play.”

And it’s a challenge that you may not be able to avoid like some were able to with OOP. Because while some platforms will run multi-threaded apps better, some practically demand threading.

What do you think? Is multi-threading where application development is headed? Should we not be so quick to discount SPARC since they opened up the spec earlier this year? If you’re doing multi-threaded programming, what tools are you using? Drop me a note.

Bryan Richard is the VP of Editorial and Infrastructure for linuxdlsazine. Want to get in touch? Send him an email.

Comments on "Intel on Quad-core vs. UltraSPARC"


Sun has bought up MySQL. They will be rewriting parts of their database to better perform on the UltraSPARC processors. Sun has got the technical people of getting this out the door in a very reasonable period of time. This will make use of almost all the processing power available on their chips.

The chip design itself is also open source. I expect it will evolve quickly to fill in required missing pieces for attracting a number of other high end applications.

In the meantime SUN can also provide Intel processors in the boxes they are selling. The buyer chooses the machine that best fits their application. The money still goes to SUN….

I am forcasting SUNny skies in six to 12 months.


Not only databases – but there is a clear opportunity for fast multithreaded queries.

Sun processors are an excellent fit for media streaming applications. This kind of applications will increase the usage of those processor in time (YouTube, Joost and co) and also many other commercial applications for Telecos.

Java works on them like a charm and Sun engineers optimized bot their C/C++ compilers as well as GCC for the Niagara processors. I have been recently working on those platforms I I had to convert some applications for audio streaming from SparcV9 to Niagara T1 and without no hand optimization in the code but with auto-parallelizations I was able to obtain about 10% increase.
With minor optimization(more threads spawned in order to keep all the cores/threads busy) the performance increased from 364 to 721 audio RTP ports.

Another advantage for UltraSparcs is that they are consuming way less power than Intel equivalents.

What it intrigues me is why this processor is not used in smaller devices as NAS or workstations where it could outperform many of the competitors due to its reduced power consumption and computing power?

I would personally love a Niagara powered NAS or UMPC or macMini-like workstation.


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