SPARC (Scalable Processor Architecture) is a reduced instruction set computing (RISC) instruction set architecture (ISA) originally developed by Sun Microsystems and Fujitsu.[1][2] Its design was strongly influenced by the experimental Berkeley RISC system developed in the early 1980s. First developed in 1986 and released in 1987,[3][2] SPARC was one of the most successful early commercial RISC systems, and its success led to the introduction of similar RISC designs from a number of vendors through the 1980s and 90s.

DesignerSun Microsystems (acquired by Oracle Corporation)
Bits64-bit (32 → 64)
Introduced1986 (production)
1987 (shipments)
VersionV9 (1993) / OSA2017
BranchingCondition code
EndiannessBi (Big → Bi)
Page size8 KB (4 KB → 8 KB)
ExtensionsVIS 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0
OpenYes, and royalty free
General purpose31 (G0 = 0; non-global registers use register windows)
Floating point32 (usable as 32 single-precision, 32 double-precision, or 16 quad-precision)

The first implementation of the original 32-bit architecture (SPARC V7) was used in Sun's Sun-4 workstation and server systems, replacing their earlier Sun-3 systems based on the Motorola 68000 series of processors. SPARC V8 added a number of improvements that were part of the SuperSPARC series of processors released in 1992. SPARC V9, released in 1993, introduced a 64-bit architecture and was first released in Sun's UltraSPARC processors in 1995. Later, SPARC processors were used in symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) and non-uniform memory access (CC-NUMA) servers produced by Sun, Solbourne and Fujitsu, among others.

The design was turned over to the SPARC International trade group in 1989, and since then its architecture has been developed by its members. SPARC International is also responsible for licensing and promoting the SPARC architecture, managing SPARC trademarks (including SPARC, which it owns), and providing conformance testing. SPARC International was intended to grow the SPARC architecture to create a larger ecosystem; SPARC has been licensed to several manufacturers, including Atmel, Bipolar Integrated Technology, Cypress Semiconductor, Fujitsu, Matsushita and Texas Instruments. Due to SPARC International, SPARC is fully open, non-proprietary and royalty-free.

As of September 2017, the latest commercial high-end SPARC processors are Fujitsu's SPARC64 XII (introduced in 2017 for its SPARC M12 server) and SPARC64 XIfx (introduced in 2015 for its PRIMEHPC FX100 supercomputer); and Oracle's SPARC M8 introduced in September 2017 for its high-end servers.

On Friday, September 1, 2017, after a round of layoffs that started in Oracle Labs in November 2016, Oracle terminated SPARC design after the completion of the M8. Much of the processor core development group in Austin, Texas, was dismissed, as were the teams in Santa Clara, California, and Burlington, Massachusetts.[4][5] SPARC development continues with Fujitsu returning to the role of leading provider of SPARC servers, with a new CPU due in the 2020 time frame.[6]


The SPARC architecture was heavily influenced by the earlier RISC designs, including the RISC I and II from the University of California, Berkeley and the IBM 801. These original RISC designs were minimalist, including as few features or op-codes as possible and aiming to execute instructions at a rate of almost one instruction per clock cycle. This made them similar to the MIPS architecture in many ways, including the lack of instructions such as multiply or divide. Another feature of SPARC influenced by this early RISC movement is the branch delay slot.

The SPARC processor usually contains as many as 160 general purpose registers. According to the "Oracle SPARC Architecture 2015" specification an "implementation may contain from 72 to 640 general-purpose 64-bit" registers.[7] At any point, only 32 of them are immediately visible to software — 8 are a set of global registers (one of which, g0, is hard-wired to zero, so only seven of them are usable as registers) and the other 24 are from the stack of registers. These 24 registers form what is called a register window, and at function call/return, this window is moved up and down the register stack. Each window has 8 local registers and shares 8 registers with each of the adjacent windows. The shared registers are used for passing function parameters and returning values, and the local registers are used for retaining local values across function calls.

The "Scalable" in SPARC comes from the fact that the SPARC specification allows implementations to scale from embedded processors up through large server processors, all sharing the same core (non-privileged) instruction set. One of the architectural parameters that can scale is the number of implemented register windows; the specification allows from three to 32 windows to be implemented, so the implementation can choose to implement all 32 to provide maximum call stack efficiency, or to implement only three to reduce cost and complexity of the design, or to implement some number between them. Other architectures that include similar register file features include Intel i960, IA-64, and AMD 29000.

The architecture has gone through several revisions. It gained hardware multiply and divide functionality in Version 8.[8][9] 64-bit (addressing and data) were added to the version 9 SPARC specification published in 1994.[10]

In SPARC Version 8, the floating point register file has 16 double-precision registers. Each of them can be used as two single-precision registers, providing a total of 32 single precision registers. An odd-even number pair of double precision registers can be used as a quad-precision register, thus allowing 8 quad precision registers. SPARC Version 9 added 16 more double precision registers (which can also be accessed as 8 quad precision registers), but these additional registers can not be accessed as single precision registers. No SPARC CPU implements quad-precision operations in hardware as of 2004.[11]

Tagged add and subtract instructions perform adds and subtracts on values checking that the bottom two bits of both operands are 0 and reporting overflow if they are not. This can be useful in the implementation of the run time for ML, Lisp, and similar languages that might use a tagged integer format.

The endianness of the 32-bit SPARC V8 architecture is purely big-endian. The 64-bit SPARC V9 architecture uses big-endian instructions, but can access data in either big-endian or little-endian byte order, chosen either at the application instruction (load-store) level or at the memory page level (via an MMU setting). The latter is often used for accessing data from inherently little-endian devices, such as those on PCI buses.


There have been three major revisions of the architecture. The first published version was the 32-bit SPARC Version 7 (V7) in 1986. SPARC Version 8 (V8), an enhanced SPARC architecture definition, was released in 1990. The main differences between V7 and V8 were the addition of integer multiply and divide instructions, and an upgrade from 80-bit "extended precision" floating-point arithmetic to 128-bit "quad-precision" arithmetic. SPARC V8 served as the basis for IEEE Standard 1754-1994, an IEEE standard for a 32-bit microprocessor architecture.

SPARC Version 9, the 64-bit SPARC architecture, was released by SPARC International in 1993. It was developed by the SPARC Architecture Committee consisting of Amdahl Corporation, Fujitsu, ICL, LSI Logic, Matsushita, Philips, Ross Technology, Sun Microsystems, and Texas Instruments. Newer specifications always remain compliant with the full SPARC V9 Level 1 specification.

In 2002, the SPARC Joint Programming Specification 1 (JPS1) was released by Fujitsu and Sun, describing processor functions which were identically implemented in the CPUs of both companies ("Commonality"). The first CPUs conforming to JPS1 were the UltraSPARC III by Sun and the SPARC64 V by Fujitsu. Functionalities which are not covered by JPS1 are documented for each processor in "Implementation Supplements".

At the end of 2003, JPS2 was released to support multicore CPUs. The first CPUs conforming to JPS2 were the UltraSPARC IV by Sun and the SPARC64 VI by Fujitsu.

In early 2006, Sun released an extended architecture specification, UltraSPARC Architecture 2005. This includes not only the non-privileged and most of the privileged portions of SPARC V9, but also all the architectural extensions developed through the processor generations of UltraSPARC III, IV IV+ as well as CMT extensions starting with the UltraSPARC T1 implementation:

  • the VIS 1 and VIS 2 instruction set extensions and the associated GSR register
  • multiple levels of global registers, controlled by the GL register
  • Sun's 64-bit MMU architecture
  • privileged instructions ALLCLEAN, OTHERW, NORMALW, and INVALW
  • access to the VER register is now hyperprivileged
  • the SIR instruction is now hyperprivileged

In 2007, Sun released an updated specification, UltraSPARC Architecture 2007, to which the UltraSPARC T2 implementation complied.

In August 2012, Oracle Corporation made available a new specification, Oracle SPARC Architecture 2011, which besides the overall update of the reference, adds the VIS 3 instruction set extensions and hyperprivileged mode to the 2007 specification.[12]

In October 2015, Oracle released SPARC M7, the first processor based on the new Oracle SPARC Architecture 2015 specification.[7][13] This revision includes VIS 4 instruction set extensions and hardware-assisted encryption and silicon secured memory (SSM) [14]

SPARC architecture has provided continuous application binary compatibility from the first SPARC V7 implementation in 1987 through the Sun UltraSPARC Architecture implementations.

Among various implementations of SPARC, Sun's SuperSPARC and UltraSPARC-I were very popular, and were used as reference systems for SPEC CPU95 and CPU2000 benchmarks. The 296 MHz UltraSPARC-II is the reference system for the SPEC CPU2006 benchmark.

SPARC architecture licensees

The following organizations have licensed the SPARC architecture:


Name (codename) Model Frequency (MHz) Arch. version Year Total threads[note 1] Process (nm) Transistors (millions) Die size (mm2) IO pins Power (W) Voltage (V) L1 Dcache (KB) L1 Icache (KB) L2 cache (KB) L3 cache (KB)
SPARC MB86900 Fujitsu[1][3][2] 14.2833V719861×1=113000.112560128 (unified)nonenone
SPARC Various[note 2] 14.2840V71989–19921×1=18001300~0.11.81602560128 (unified)nonenone
microSPARC I (Tsunami) TI TMS390S10 4050V819921×1=18000.8225?2882.5524nonenone
SuperSPARC I (Viking) TI TMX390Z50 / Sun STP1020 3360V819921×1=18003.129314.3516200–2048none
SPARClite Fujitsu MB8683x 66108V8E19921×1=1144, 1762.5/3.3–5.0 V, 2.5–3.3 V1, 2, 8, 161, 2, 8, 16nonenone
hyperSPARC (Colorado 1) Ross RT620A 4090V819931×1=15001.55?08128–256none
microSPARC II (Swift) Fujitsu MB86904 / Sun STP1012 60125V819941×1=15002.323332153.3816nonenone
hyperSPARC (Colorado 2) Ross RT620B 90125V819941×1=14001.53.308128–256none
SuperSPARC II (Voyager) Sun STP1021 7590V819941×1=18003.12991616201024–2048none
hyperSPARC (Colorado 3) Ross RT620C 125166V819951×1=13501.53.308512–1024none
TurboSPARC Fujitsu MB86907 160180V819961×1=13503.013241673.51616512none
UltraSPARC (Spitfire) Sun STP1030 143167V919951×1=14703.831552130[note 3]3.31616512–1024none
UltraSPARC (Hornet) Sun STP1030 200V919951×1=14205.22655213.31616512–1024none
hyperSPARC (Colorado 4) Ross RT620D 180200V819961×1=13501.73.31616512none
SPARC64 Fujitsu (HAL) 101118V919951×1=1400Multichip286503.8128128
SPARC64 II Fujitsu (HAL) 141161V919961×1=1350Multichip286643.3128128
SPARC64 III Fujitsu (HAL) MBCS70301 250330V919981×1=124017.62402.564648192
UltraSPARC IIs (Blackbird) Sun STP1031 250400V919971×1=13505.414952125[note 4]2.516161024 or 4096none
UltraSPARC IIs (Sapphire-Black) Sun STP1032 / STP1034 360480V919991×1=12505.412652121[note 5]1.9161610248192none
UltraSPARC IIi (Sabre) Sun SME1040 270360V919971×1=13505.4156587211.916162562048none
UltraSPARC IIi (Sapphire-Red) Sun SME1430 333480V919981×1=12505.458721[note 6]1.916162048none
UltraSPARC IIe (Hummingbird) Sun SME1701 400500V919991×1=1180 Al37013[note 7]1.5–1.71616256none
UltraSPARC IIi (IIe+) (Phantom) Sun SME1532 550650V920001×1=1180 Cu37017.61.71616512none
SPARC64 GP Fujitsu SFCB81147 400563V920001×1=118030.22171.81281288192
SPARC64 GP -- 600810V91×1=115030.21.51281288192
SPARC64 IV Fujitsu MBCS80523 450810V920001×1=11301281282048
UltraSPARC III (Cheetah) Sun SME1050 600JPS120011×1=1180 Al293301368531.664328192none
UltraSPARC III (Cheetah) Sun SME1052 750900JPS120011×1=1130 Al2913681.664328192none
UltraSPARC III Cu (Cheetah+) Sun SME1056 10021200JPS120011×1=1130 Cu29232136880[note 8]1.664328192none
UltraSPARC IIIi (Jalapeño) Sun SME1603 10641593JPS120031×1=113087.5206959521.364321024none
SPARC64 V (Zeus) Fujitsu 11001350JPS120031×1=1130190289269401.21281282048
SPARC64 V+ (Olympus-B) Fujitsu 16502160JPS120041×1=1904002972796511281284096
UltraSPARC IV (Jaguar) Sun SME1167 10501350JPS220041×2=21306635613681081.35643216384none
UltraSPARC IV+ (Panther) Sun SME1167A 15002100JPS220051×2=2902953361368901.16464204832768
UltraSPARC T1 (Niagara) Sun SME1905 10001400UA200520054×8=32903003401933721.38163072none
SPARC64 VI (Olympus-C) Fujitsu 21502400JPS220072×2=4905404221201501.1128×2128×240966144none
UltraSPARC T2 (Niagara 2) Sun SME1908A 10001600UA200720078×8=64655033421831951.11.58164096none
UltraSPARC T2 Plus (Victoria Falls) Sun SME1910A 12001600UA200720088×8=646550334218318164096none
SPARC64 VII (Jupiter)[15] Fujitsu 24002880JPS220082×4=86560044515064×464×46144none
UltraSPARC "RK" (Rock)[16] Sun SME1832 2300????canceled[17]2×16=3265?3962326??32322048?
SPARC64 VIIIfx (Venus)[18][19] Fujitsu 2000JPS2 / HPC-ACE20091×8=845760513127158?32×832×86144none
LEON2FT Atmel AT697F 100V820091×1=118019611.8/3.31632none
SPARC T3 (Rainbow Falls) Oracle/Sun 1650UA200720108×16=12840[20]????371?139?8166144none
Galaxy FT-1500 NUDT (China) 1800UA2007?201?8×16=12840????????65?16×1616×16512×164096
SPARC64 VII+ (Jupiter-E or M3)[21][22] Fujitsu 2667–3000JPS220102×4=86516064×464×412288none
LEON3FT Cobham Gaisler GR712RC 100V8E20111×2=21801.5[note 9]1.8/3.34x4Kb4x4Kbnonenone
R1000 MCST (Russia) 1000JPS220111×4=490180128151, 1.8, 2.532162048none
SPARC T4 (Yosemite Falls)[23] Oracle 2850–3000OSA201120118×8=6440855403?240?16×816×8128×84096
SPARC64 IXfx[24][25][26] Fujitsu 1850JPS2 / HPC-ACE20121x16=164018704841442110?32×1632×1612288none
SPARC64 X (Athena)[27] Fujitsu 2800OSA2011 / HPC-ACE20122×16=32282950587.51500270?64×1664×1624576none
SPARC T5 Oracle 3600OSA201120138×16=128281500478???16×1616×16128×168192
SPARC M5[28] Oracle 3600OSA201120138×6=48283900511???16×616×6128×649152
SPARC M6[29] Oracle 3600OSA201120138×12=96284270643???16×1216×12128×1249152
SPARC64 X+ (Athena+)[30] Fujitsu 3200–3700OSA2011 / HPC-ACE20142×16=322829906001500392?64×1664×1624Mnone
SPARC64 XIfx[31] Fujitsu 2200JPS2 / HPC-ACE220141×(32+2)=34203750?1001??64×3464×3412M×2none
SPARC M7[32][33] Oracle 4133OSA201520158×32=25620>10,000????16×3216×32256×2465536
SPARC S7[34][35] Oracle 4270OSA201520168×8=6420????????16×816×8256×2+256×416384
SPARC64 XII[36] Fujitsu 4250OSA201? / HPC-ACE20178×12=962055007951860??64×1264×12512×1232768
SPARC M8[37][38] Oracle 5000OSA201720178×32=25620?????32×3216×32128×32+256×865536
LEON4 Cobham Gaisler GR740 250 [note 10]V8E20171×4=4321.2/2.5/3.34x44x42048none
Name (codename) Model Frequency (MHz) Arch. version Year Total threads[note 1] Process (nm) Transistors (millions) Die size (mm2) IO pins Power (W) Voltage (V) L1 Dcache (KB) L1 Icache (KB) L2 cache (KB) L3 cache (KB)


  1. Threads per core × number of cores
  2. Various SPARC V7 implementations were produced by Fujitsu, LSI Logic, Weitek, Texas Instruments, Cypress and Temic. A SPARC V7 processor generally consisted of several discrete chips, usually comprising an integer unit (IU), a floating-point unit (FPU), a memory management unit (MMU) and cache memory. Conversely, the Atmel (now Microchip Technology) TSC695 is a single-chip SPARC V7 implementation.
  3. @167 MHz
  4. @250 MHz
  5. @400 MHz
  6. @440 MHz
  7. max. @500 MHz
  8. @900 MHz
  9. excluding I/O buses
  10. nominal; specification from 100 to 424 MHz depending on attached RAM capabilities

Operating system support

SPARC machines have generally used Sun's SunOS, Solaris, or OpenSolaris including derivatives illumos and OpenIndiana, but other operating systems have also been used, such as NeXTSTEP, RTEMS, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and Linux.

In 1993, Intergraph announced a port of Windows NT to the SPARC architecture,[39] but it was later cancelled.

In October 2015, Oracle announced a "Linux for SPARC reference platform".[40]

Open source implementations

Several fully open source implementations of the SPARC architecture exist:

  • LEON, a 32-bit, SPARC Version 8 implementation, designed especially for space use. Source code is written in VHDL, and licensed under the GPL.
  • OpenSPARC T1, released in 2006, a 64-bit, 32-thread implementation conforming to the UltraSPARC Architecture 2005 and to SPARC Version 9 (Level 1). Source code is written in Verilog, and licensed under many licenses. Most OpenSPARC T1 source code is licensed under the GPL. Source based on existent open source projects will continue to be licensed under their current licenses. Binary programs are licensed under a binary software license agreement.
  • S1, a 64-bit Wishbone compliant CPU core based on the OpenSPARC T1 design. It is a single UltraSPARC v9 core capable of 4-way SMT. Like the T1, the source code is licensed under the GPL.
  • OpenSPARC T2, released in 2008, a 64-bit, 64-thread implementation conforming to the UltraSPARC Architecture 2007 and to SPARC Version 9 (Level 1). Source code is written in Verilog, and licensed under many licenses. Most OpenSPARC T2 source code is licensed under the GPL. Source based on existing open source projects will continue to be licensed under their current licenses. Binary programs are licensed under a binary Software License Agreement.

A fully open source simulator for the SPARC architecture also exists:

  • RAMP Gold, a 32-bit, 64-thread SPARC Version 8 implementation, designed for FPGA-based architecture simulation. RAMP Gold is written in ~36,000 lines of SystemVerilog, and licensed under the BSD licenses.


For HPC loads Fujitsu builds specialized SPARC64 fx processors with a new instruction extensions set, called HPC-ACE (High Performance Computing – Arithmetic Computational Extensions).

Fujitsu's K computer ranked No.1 in the TOP500 June 2011 and November 2011 lists. It combines 88,128 SPARC64 VIIIfx CPUs, each with eight cores, for a total of 705,024 cores—almost twice as many as any other system in the TOP500 at that time. The K Computer was more powerful than the next five systems on the list combined, and had the highest performance-to-power ratio of any supercomputer system.[41] It also ranked No.6 in the Green500 June 2011 list, with a score of 824.56 MFLOPS/W.[42] In the November 2012 release of TOP500, the K computer ranked No.3, using by far the most power of the top three.[43] It ranked No.85 on the corresponding Green500 release.[44] Newer HPC processors, IXfx and XIfx, were included in recent PRIMEHPC FX10 and FX100 supercomputers.

Tianhe-2 (TOP500 No.1 as of November 2014[45]) has a number of nodes with Galaxy FT-1500 OpenSPARC-based processors developed in China. However, those processors did not contribute to the LINPACK score.[46][47]

See also

  • ERC32 — based on SPARC V7 specification
  • Ross Technology, Inc. — a SPARC microprocessor developer during the 1980s and 1990s
  • Sparcle — a modified SPARC with multiprocessing support used by the MIT Alewife project
  • LEON — a space rated SPARC V8 processor.
  • R1000 — a Russian quad-core microprocessor based on SPARC V9 specification
  • Galaxy FT-1500 — a Chinese 16-core OpenSPARC based processor


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