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Sun MAJC CPU set for Java-style public licencing

Sun exec speaks to The Register

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More details of Sun's Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing (MAJC - aka 'Magic') CPU have emerged following yesterday's revelations that the company is working on a new processor aimed at the Internet appliance market. According to Sun's group marketing manager for Magic, Jeff O'Neal, the device is based on a VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) core, and that the chip will contain multiple cores. Designed to process multiple data types -- but streamed data for video, audio, 3D and comms applications in particular -- Magic has a very high I/O bandwidth and provides DSP-like functionality through a more simple, more generic programming interface, O'Neal told The Register. In that respect, Magic sounds rather like Motorola's upcoming PowerPC 7400 (aka G4), or at least the next version of it. That release, codenamed v'ger, is due late next year and, in addition to the 7400's AltiVec vector processing module, will provide a 'multiple cores on a single die' architecture. According to O'Neal, the key difference between architectures like PowerPC and Intel's Pentium III with its Streaming SIMD Extensions, and Magic is that Sun's chip was designed from the start with all these advanced features in mind. "We took a bet on Java four and a half years ago, and that's when we began developing Magic," he said. "Marc Tremblay [head of the Magic design project] started the chip on a clean sheet of paper." Other architectures, he said, are all essentially over 20 years old. They started out with integer units, later got FPUs bolted on and, more recently, media-oriented technologies -- Magic has had all these features from the start. Still, Motorola, Intel and others have come a long way with their approach, and Sun will have to compete directly with them in the gap between the PC market and the more deeply embedded arena, currently targeted by Sun's picoJava CPU. Sun's approach, according to O'Neal, is to focus on media-rich applications and, while the company is keen to point out Magic isn't a Java-only architecture, to play the Java card. Market research company Dataquest claims 72 per cent of the Fortune 1000 companies are using Java for application development, said O'Neal. "The last thing ISVs want is another ISA (Instruction Set Architecture)," he said. "With Java they can use Magic through a language they already know, using Java 2D, 3D, Advanced Imaging etc." Magic, he said, is a "black box" to the user -- you just write your apps as you do today, compile them and then run them on the new platform. Applications are one thing, but the new architecture will need operating systems too, and O'Neal said Sun was already talking to "all of the Real Time Operating System players". The only OS O'Neal would specifically say would be ported to Magic was ChorusOS, the real-time system Sun acquired in 1997, but embedded versions of Linux have to be on the cards too. Magic would even provide a handy outlet for post-Amiga QNX. For that matter, it would prove a neat chip for Amiga's next-generation architecture, too -- particularly given the close ties between Java, AmigaObjects and the new Amiga Operating Environment. Magic will be launched formally at the HotChips conference in a couple of weeks' time, with a more detailed presentation to follow in October at the Microprocessor Forum. The chip should be released early next year. O'Neal wouldn't comment on how Magic would be licensed, but he added that an open Java Public Licence-style approach -- you can use the technology for free; you only pay up if you make commercial use of it -- had "not been ruled out". In fact Sun almost certainly take that route, not least now that Motorola has begun offering free licences for its mCore embedded CPU family and is likely to extend that to other embedded architectures, and it's already offering picoJava under just such a licence and will issue UltraSparc the same way by year end. ®

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