Just yesterday, Sun Microsystems announced the UltraSPARC T2 processor (also known as Niagara 2) under an open source license (GPL) with the chip’s complete design to be available at OpenSPARC.net. The new processor has 8 cores each with its own floating point unit and capable of running 8 threads for a total of 64 threads that is double the throughput of its predecessor the T1. And the new microprocessor is open source which I believe means anyone can fabricate it, but honestly, how many can really afford to do that? The fact that the complete design of the chip is available for free will surely make it easier for programmers to port and optimize software for it. I also forgot to mention that the T2 is also power efficient consuming less than 2W per thread.
Sun has termed their new processor as the world’s fastest, most energy efficient, true system on a chip and commodity microprocessor in the market today.
Well, that certainly is a mouthful! What Sun’s marketing tram is trying to tell us is that if you could actually make this the guts of your Desktop machine then it would allow you to simultaneously surf the Web, finish your homework, rip DVDs, download porn (shame on you,) search for extraterrestrial life with SETI@Home, fold proteins with Folding@Home and get your butt kicked by Polaris in poker. And all that for the affordable price of less than $1000; but only if you buy one thousand units so you better be working on a simulation of the Bing Bang or else you are going to have a hard time getting research funding for the purchase of so many UltraSPARC T2s; or maybe you can enroll in a few more courses with a focus on machine learning and data mining.
In all seriousness, though, the fact that Sun is stepping in a market that has been dominated by IBM and Intel (and I guess AMD to a lesser extent) can only be good news for those interested in scientific computing. It will increase competition and drive innovation along with a drop in prices.
On a similar note, I am really amazed by the incredible amount of computing power we can purchase today for just a few hundred dollars. Even the cheaper dual core systems such as those build around AMD’s Athlon X2 microprocessor are vastly superior than anything we had even 10 years ago.
I still remember my first computer which I purchased in 1991. It was an Amstrad PC 1512; the Amstrad PC 1512 was about 5 years old and a bit out of date by then, but that was the only computer I could afford; I worked full-time during the summer of 1991 in order to purchase this computer. It was based on an Intel 8086 microprocessor running at 8MHz and had 512K of RAM. It didn’t have a hard drive but it made up for the lack of storage with dual 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drives. Does anyone still remember these? I had so much fun making backups of my programs by copying them from one floppy disk to another and I didn’t have to swap disks like those who had machines with only one floppy disk drive. I wrote my first few programs using some interpreted version of BASIC (I believe it was called Locomotive BASIC) that was sold with the machine; other than some early version of DOS, I also had a copy of Gary Kildall’s historic CP/M which had a Graphical User Interface well before Microsoft and Apple developed theirs. Finally, the Amstrad almost made me go blind courtesy of its horrible CGA graphics; I was just fortunate that my monitor was gray scale because color CGA with its 16 colors was just plain painful to look at.
And since I am talking about old computers, my second computer was a no-name 386 DX40 PC. It had an Intel processor that could run in one of two speeds at 20MHz or turbo at 40MHz. The turbo button was all the money and I really miss this feature in modern computers. I remember that I had to run the processor at 20MHz for some games because the developers (not the very good ones) had the timing of some games set in such a way that at 40MHz the games run faster and were essentially unplayable. My 386 box had color VGA graphics which was pure awesomeness compared to CGA. I learned to code in C and C++ using this machine and Borland’s excellent Turbo C++ IDE; whatever happened to Borland anyways?
After the 386, I moved to a P75 during my undergraduate years and my first 17-inch CRT monitor which I still use after more than 10 years; this is the monitor I use while typing this article. The monitor is a SONY Trinitron Multiscan 200ES and it has served me well. Unfortunately, it looks like it won’t last me more than a few more months. Since the P75, I upgraded a few times getting a P90 and eventually a PIII at 500MHz and later a PIII at 1GHZ; the latter was my home machine until about 3 months ago when I purchased an AMD Athlon X2 system for less than $400. And this is the system that I use at home today. We do our research on more recent multi-core CPUs from Intel.
It was nice reminiscing about old computers. I am curious, what was your first computer and what do you use today?
(If you have your own blog, then make a post about your first and current computers linking back to my post/blog and then alert me about it by sending me an email at email@example.com. I will collect the articles and summarize them in a future post. I think it will be fun for our community to share their own computer (hi)stories in this manner. Just to sweeten the deal, the best post will receive a permanent backlink from this blog. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!)