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October 5, 1998

MICROJAVA STILLBORN AS SUN TURNS TO PARTNERS

By CBR Staff Writer

The network computer market clearly hasn’t materialized in the way Sun Microsystems Inc and others envisaged which is why, the company’s microelectronics division says, it is abandoning its Java-on-silicon microJava CPU after just one generation. We wonder whether Sun’s hardware arm that makes the JavaStation NC agrees? Instead Sun’s six Java chip partners will develop, manufacture and market their own Java chips built to the picoJava design that Sun says it will continue to enhance. Sun’s first (and last) microJava 701 is due to sample this week; the division, now under new management, is currently working on a picoJava 3 design. Sun says it has already seen silicon from at least one of the six and anticipates a demo product using it on show at Comdex. Sun expects microJava 701 – destined to become a collector’s item – to be used mostly for prototype device and software development and will offer a board-level solution using the part. Sun said it wasn’t in a position to satisfy the highly custom requirements of its partners who will use Java chips in a variety of embedded, low-power devices. Sun says it is still working on a so-called Magic specification for a second Java chip architecture called UltraJava that will be optimized, unlike picoJava, to take advantage of multimedia and display capabilities. MicroJava, it said, was designed primarily with the NC-style market; the chip’s large die size – 67mm sq -making it unsuitable for embedded applications. Sun and its partners – including NEC, IBM, Mitsubishi and LG Semicon – were originally to develop application-specific derivatives of picoJava for different markets. PicoJava 1 was announced in 1996 and abandoned in favor of a picoJava 2 revision a year later. The 701, being built for Sun by LSI Logic, will execute Java bytecode at 100 MHz, and use a 33MHz PCI bus. Sun is expected to offer a C compiler for it. 701 has some 4m transistors is done in an 0.25 micron process and runs at 2.5V. Rival Java chip house Patriot Scientific Corp was quick to claim Sun’s decision would help its effort to market its own embedded Java chip, which is still looking for big name licensees. It said Sun’s architectural design point for microJava was clearly wrong even though it thinks a viable NC market will still emerge. Patriot, a one-chip company, is currently evaluating which of several different variants of its own chip design it will bring to market.

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