Sun Microsystems Inc’s going to create a branding and testing program for Java chips and its microelectronics division, which just announced its microJava 701 processor for delivery in the second half of next year, is already shaping the competitive landscape by throwing cold water on some of its anticipated competition, namely Patriot Scientific Corp. Sun’s microelectronics people say just because a product implements JavaOS [operating system] doesn’t make it a Java chip. Patriot is riding the Java branding game. Sun’s referring to the fact that Patriot is about to begin shipping a $10 chip called PSC1000 (formerly known as ShBoom) which executes Java bytecode natively – in addition to C programs – and currently runs JavaOS. Patriot will show PSC1000 powering a network computer, for demonstration only purposes, at Comdex next month. Its intended market is sub- $125 low-end internet appliances, including web phones and set- tops. Sun doesn’t recognize PSC1000 as a Java chip because, it says, being built before Java was solid, the chip doesn’t execute all 228 Java bytecodes in silicon. Patriot agrees that PSC1000 executes 20% of Java bytecodes – 30% according to Sun – in software, but explains that 15% of Java bytecodes can’t be implemented in silicon by anyone; Sun’s microJava and all other Java chips will have to execute these in software. Unlike microJava, PSC1000 has no hardwired floating-point unit, which means those instructions are executed in software. However PSC1000 implements the full Java virtual machine and is therefore, to Patriot’s mind, a bona fide Java chip. Indeed Patriot says PSC1000 beats microJava in price performance terms. PSC1000, with 140,00 transistors, performs about 500 embedded Caffeinemarks, a benchmark which uses nine tests to measure various aspects of Java virtual machine performance. PSC1000 costs $10. The 200MHz microJava, with 2.8m transistors, performs 13,332 Caffeinemarks and will reportedly costs around $70 when it ships by the end of next year, a figure Sun would not confirm. Patriot has at least three revs of the chip planned over the next three or four years. Performance will double six times, it claims.
In addition to shrinking the design process from 0.5 microns to 0.25m and increasing the 100MHz clock speed, Patriot says it will increases cache size and add more pipelining. C code is executed by using a version of Sierra Systems compiler that company created a licensed to Patriot which ships with PSC1000. Patriot says it’s quite prepared to submit to any branding and testing but expects that if Sun’s microelectronics division sets the tests and does the evaluation – as opposed to Sun Microsystems Inc or a third party like JavaSoft uses – that it’s likely to rig the thing so that Patriot will have to rev its design to comply. Patriot says it’s not averse to playing this game if it can win branding, which would be an important marketing tool for it, as long as the price is not too high. Sun wouldn’t say whether it PSC1000 would likely pass a Java chip conformance test. Patriot explains its chip was originally designed for executing C, then Java came along. microJava was designed for Java, then Sun decided to add C/C++. It’s currently running JavaOS on PSC1000, but like Sun, expects to put one or more of the device-oriented Java subsets including PersonalJava and EmbeddedJava up on the processor in addition to other real-time operating systems. The wider question is whether Sun is prepared to foster a widespread third party Java chip market or put a bunch of bells and whistles in front companies like Patriot, similar to the way it’s hobbled the Sparc-compatible marketplace.
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