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By | Ashlee Vance 13th September 2007 19:24

IBM holds 128-thread 'Q7' variant of Power7

2010 super booster?

Exclusive IBM has shelved a top-secret chip project meant to give the company a massively multi-threaded part that could have served as a major disrupter in the Unix world, The Register has learned.

According to information obtained by El Reg, IBM's processor boffins have been exploring something known as Q7. This processor was a possible follow on to today's Power6 and included support for up to 128 software threads. IBM considered Q7 a type of radical take on Power7, since the product centered more on many low-power cores rather than fewer more powerful cores.

In the end, IBM decided that Q7 would not deliver the mainstream performance needed by most of its Unix server customers. So, the vendor has set to work on a Power7 design that should arrive around 2010 with, oh, four to eight cores. The design work remains in process, making those figures very fluid. (We've heard chatter about each core supporting up to four threads.)

Sun Microsystems has garnered plenty of attention with its radical Niagara processor line. These chips have up to 8 cores and support for 64 threads today. Next year, Sun will deliver multi-socket Niagara-based servers capable of chewing through hundreds of software threads in a single system.

Sun, however, admits that the Niagara systems target only certain types of workloads. So, it has prepped the 16-core Rock chip - due out in late 2008 - to handle higher-end Unix server loads.

According to our information, IBM's Q7 chip demonstrated 33 per cent better performance per thread than Niagara 2 on the SPECint benchmark. So, it would enjoy higher performance per thread and more threads than Sun's chip of today. Lord knows what Sun will ship in 2010. (Go on, you know where to send the mail. Don't let Fowler scare you. He's harmless.)

IBM still has the Q7 designs laying around and may well pop the chips into Power7 servers as accelerators for specific software loads. ®

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