Eye on Oracle

Nov 1 2012   2:21PM GMT

Sparc turns 25

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

A quarter-century ago, Sun Microsystems developed and introduced the Sparc chip. This week the Computer History Museum plans to celebrate that fact.

Sparc stands for Scalable Processor Architecture, and was a RISC-based chip introduced by Sun for its own servers and workstations. The Sparc chip was designed to replace – and be more robust, than the Motorola chips that were previously in Sun servers. The chip has undergone several revisions over the years, with several name changes: HyperSparc, SuperSparc, TurboSparc, UltraSparc, and on and on. The main ones now are the Sparc Tx, developed by Sun successor Oracle, and the Sparc64 chip designed by Fujitsu.

Perhaps one of the most famous iterations of Sparc was the one that got canceled. Codenamed “Rock,” the chip went through multiple delays under the purview of Sun Microsystems, and then was canceled by Oracle when Oracle bought Sun. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison on why he canceled the Rock project:

This processor had two incredible virtues: It was incredibly slow and it consumed vast amounts of energy. It was so hot that they had to put about 12 inches of cooling fans on top of it to cool the processor. It was just madness to continue that project.

The Computer History Museum is holding an expert panel event about the 25th anniversary of Sparc on Nov. 1 from 11am to 1pm Pacific. The event, dubbed “SPARC at 25: Past Present, and Future,” will be at the museum’s campus in Mountain View, Calif. Speakers will include two co-founders of Sun Microsystems, Bill Joy and Andy Bechtolsheim, Oracle President Mark Hurd, and others.


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