Sun had to make changes. They’re (or were) getting their butts handed to them in the mid-range and entry level server markets, so those changes had to come fast.
There was a time when the top of their low-end server lineup was the V480 with four UltraSparc III CPUs in a 4U rack enclosure. Trouble is, it lists way over $30,000. They can’t cut the price on it without bleeding money, and worse, they can’t scrap their old models because their inventory of pieces and parts is too much to swallow if they did.
So what they did do is release a new line of low-end servers at half the price, but with some slightly different specs (and, I’d imagine, cheaper manufacturing processes) while preserving their older, more expensive servers in the line as the “better” machines. Example: the V440 is similar to the V480 but has fewer DIMM slots and sports UltraSparc IIIi CPUs. The USIIIi doesn’t have the brains to do more than four-way multi-processing, but the designers used the chip real estate that freed up to put one MB of on-chip L2 cache. The USIII usually comes in machines with 8 MB of external L2 cache, but it runs far slower than the CPU’s clock rate. Eight MBs of cache is a lot, but arguments seem to favor a much faster one MB internal cache when performance is on the line.
Beyond the cache issue, the IIIi sports a faster interconnect bus called JBus which further decreases the value of an off-chip L2 cache. Access to main RAM at almost the same speed as the L2 cache in previous CPUs, and greater over-all throughput combined with the integrated L2 cache, how can Sun argue that the IIIi is slower than the old III?
But that’s exactly what Sun is doing. Their old manufacturing processes left them sitting on huge inventories for all manner of machines, and until they can clear those out, they’ll be sending some difficult marketing messages. The basics of it are like this: if you’re a regular Sun customer and can afford it, then continue to buy the really expensive boxes. If you can’t afford it and might otherwise buy servers from our competitors, then take a look at these newer, cheaper models. And if you’ve never bought Sun before, take a look at the speedy performance and low-cost of this V440.