Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Remembering SPARC - Chip Hall of Fame Article In IEEE Spectrum

This was an exciting time for Sun Microsystems when SPARC came out in 1987. I remember being asked to attend the first field meeting for SPARC.  We were called SPARC Ambassadors.  I met a lot of very interesting and talented individuals at this first meeting.  One of my memories was they gave us this piece of paper that had a brass round head fastener (that you last saw in elementary school) to show off the SPARC Register windows of Ins, Outs, Locals and Globals by rotating the upper piece of paper to show the registers.  I was fairly new to Sun at that point, but I still raised my hand and said, "I think there are a few individuals who will be interested in register windows, but I know a lot of customers who we deal with will just want to know SPARC is 10 MIPS compared to a 4 MIPS 25MHz 68020 and they will need to recompile their software if they have Motorola binaries." As SPARC proved, it was not about clock rate, but rather about how much work was done in a give cycle. SPARC was a great architecture.

As the article:

Chip Hall of Fame: Sun Microsystems SPARC Processor

Using an unproven new architecture, this processor put Sun Microsystems on the map


"The Berkeley group, led by David Patterson, called their approach RISC, for reduced-instruction-set computing.

As an academic study, RISC sounded great. But was it marketable? Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle) bet on it. In 1984, a small team of Sun engineers set out to develop a 32-bit RISC processor called SPARC (for Scalable Processor Architecture). The idea was to use the chips in Sun’s new line of workstations. One day, Scott McNealy, then Sun’s CEO, showed up at the SPARC development lab. “He said that SPARC would take Sun from a $500-million-a-year company to a billion-dollar-a-year company,” recalls Patterson, a consultant to the SPARC project."

Of course, Scott was right!