Sun Microsystems Was Working on Low-Power x86 Microprocessor

Sun’s Unannounced x86 Chip Could Rival Processors from AMD, Intel

by Anton Shilov
06/29/2010 | 02:38 PM

Sun Microsystems had been working on a low-power server x86 chip that could power cloud or hyperscale datacenters, according to a media report. Unfortunately, it seems that the chip was scrapped after Oracle acquired Sun.


There is a great demand towards low-power microprocessors for ultra large datacenters that consist of thousands of servers. Recently Advanced Micro Devices launched a lineup of low-cost low-power quad-core and six-core Opteron central processing units (CPUs) that specifically targeted servers for cloud/hyper datacenters. Intel Corp., the world’s largest maker of chips, also has a number of processor models that are created for the same type of applications.

At present AMD and Intel generally have no rivals for x86-based low-cost low-power microprocessors. The only company to also design x86 chips is Via Technologies, whose market presence is negligible. Both AMD and Intel tailor their Opteron or Xeon chips, which power high-end and mainstream servers, for new applications, what is the most efficient way of manufacturing CPUs for them, but such chips may not be the most efficient possible for cloud solutions. But what about an x86 chip that is designed for cloud/hyperscale datacenters from the ground up?

According to a news-story at the New York Times, Sun Microsystems was working of an x86-compliant low-power chip at could find a place inside the company’s servers for cloud computing. Considering that Sun was not a novice when it comes to remote computing, the server company probably did know well what features and capabilities to integrate into its own microprocessors for large machines.

Historically Sun has been producing processors based on UltraSPARC micro-architecture aiming enterprise/mission critical machines. However, since the company has pretty large patent portfolio, it is highly likely that it could negotiate with Intel regarding x86 license and get it. As a result, provided that the design of the chip was correct, it could easily start using it with chances for success. But with the acquisition by Oracle, not only the x86 chip may be canned, but the whole CPU development team may be dissolved. An interesting situation can occur if Oracle decides to sell off CPU design assets and at least certain intellectual property.

Oracle did not comment on the news-story.