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Sun to show first Java chips at Comdex

November 16, 1998
Web posted at: 2:08 PM ET

by Dana Gardner


(IDG) -- Sun Microsystems' microelectronics division at Comdex next week will be joined by four major licensees to demonstrate the first integrated circuits with Java byte code set directly into silicon, Sun officials said.

IBM, NEC, Fujitsu, and LG Semiconductor will demonstrate such prototype consumer devices as set-top Web boxes, Web phones, and other handheld devices -- as well as at least one Web thin client -- that employ the so-called picoJava chips, Sun officials said.

"This allows the efficient running of Java without the memory footprint required of a just-in-time (JIT) compiler," said Fadi Azhari, group manager for picoJava at Sun Microelectronics, in San Jose, Calif. "It's quite a milestone for us -- we'll have real, working silicon for the first time ever."

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Expect the first prototypes of the consumer devices to enter the market in early 1999, he said. They may be soon followed by Java-enabled devices for the factory floor, from robotics to communications devices, as well as low-cost, Web-based Java devices to serve as specialized thin clients in the enterprise, Sun officials said.

Siemens is licensing the technology to create a derivative chip for use in smart cards -- credit-card size devices used in lieu of cash -- which have grown popular in Europe but so far failed to catch on in the United States.

The picoJava technology is notable because it allows the use of Java technology in a much smaller footprint, and at much lower cost, than software-only deployment of Java, explained Azhari.

"In the Java chip we have migrated the byte code instruction set to silicon, so instructions run on the chip with no translation mechanism and no JIT compiler to read and execute," he said. "The advantage in the Java chip is that it's running byte code programs, and that may be all you need."

The picoJava chips may also -- if the device designer is willing to spend the money and space -- include software support for the Java environment, such as for garbage collection, code verification, thread management, and security, Azhari said.

There is an added benefit to designers: By using picoJava, adding those software-based functions is accomplished with less space and in a faster fashion than conventional Java -- all of which better support the requirements of the consumer market, Azhari said.

"With set-top boxes, or other consumer devices with a limited memory footprint, cost is driving factor," said Harlan McGhan, group manager for technical architecture marketing at Sun. "So today if I'm running Java on any RISC processor I need additional space for JIT compiler. But picoJava doesn't need that memory footprint. It's the efficient running of Java without the memory footprint."

Other than validation chips, Sun doesn't plan to make the chips, but rather license the technology for the others to then design, produce, and market the Java components, McGhan said.

Sun first announced the Java chip program in February, 1996, making the project come to fruition in less than three years. To date, a total of six licensees have acquired the picoJava technology, Sun officials said.

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