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Sun preps Net box-oriented CPU

Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing to debut later this month

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Sun Microsystems confirmed this weekend that it is developing a processor architecture for the emerging Internet appliance market, and that it will formally launch the chip later this month. The CPU design, dubbed the Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing (MAJC) and apparently pronounced 'magic' -- what will these Sun guys think of next? -- appears to be aimed at non-PC devices, but not necessarily those based on Java. Sun has released little in the way of detail, but it seems likely that the new chip's focus is on improving the playback of Internet-transmitted multimedia data, much as Intel is doing on the desktop with its Streaming SIMD Extensions technology. Ditto Motorola's PowerPC-based AltiVec. The Java connection, for now, appears rather tenuous. Since Java, by defintion, is processor-independent -- that's why it runs within a virtual machine or through a just-in-time compiler -- there's nothing inherently 'Java' about the new CPU. That said, MAJC may well have been designed with the kind of core CPU processes in mind that will make JVMs more efficient, but we won't know this for sure until the chip is debuted at a semiconductor industry conference to be held later this month at Stanford University. Certainly, the company is claiming this is a chip designed from afresh, much like the ever-secretive Transmeta. And, according to today's New York Times, Sun is claiming that MAJC will also run software compiled from other languages more quickly than current desktop CPUs. MAJC will certainly have to deliver something new, if it's to make headway in a world of increasingly more powerful embedded CPUs, many of them aimed at specific roles, and the growing number of system-on-a-chip parts becoming available. ®

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