NEW YORK Second-generation twists on Java silicon are taking shape separately at two little-known startups that aim to bust through the language's performance and memory management problems.
The goals of both design houses Nazomi Communications Inc. (Santa Clara, Calif.) and Chicory Systems Inc. (Austin, Texas) is to give the lie to industry talk that Java chips are too slow for real-world embedded systems such as cell phones, and manage memory poorly to boot. Java also cleans up memory at will, making real-time, or deterministic, operation difficult.
Both startups are building their approaches around intellectual property (IP). Neither plans to offer a standalone Java chip, such as Sun Microsystems Inc. envisioned with its picoJava architecture. Rather, these second-generation designers are pulling together Java coprocessors that can be combined with mainstream embedded CPU cores to create a system-on-chip (SoC) design. The idea is for the Java coprocessor to take some of the load off the main CPU, accelerating the byte-code-driven Java programs up to and beyond the poor hardware benchmarks they have displayed thus far.
Nazomi, founded in 1998 under the name Jedi Technologies, said that its JStar device acts as a coprocessor, and is designed to give vendors a drop-in upgrade for existing products.
The initial implementation is available for the ARM7 and ARM9 embedded architectures. Nazomi is also working with 32- and 64-bit offerings from MIPS Technologies Inc. Another potential customer Nazomi is eyeing is Motorola.
That appears to dovetail with the company's apparent plan to pin its future on a big design win in cell phones. "I believe all phones will be Java-enabled by 2002," said Jay Kamdar, chief operating officer at Nazomi. Kamdar wouldn't specify which Motorola core his company is working with, though he ruled out the more energy-demanding PowerPC.
For its part, Chicory Systems appears strikingly similar to Nazomi in its goals.
Founded in 1999, Chicory says it has developed "a patented, silicon-based 'just-in-time' code acceleration and optimization technology that very rapidly converts one instruction set, data type or media stream into another instruction set, data type or media stream using sophisticated hardware logic instead of a software program."
Like Nazomi, Chicory will also offer its Java-acceleration technology as IP, with an eye toward SoC designers in the wireless world. In terms of implementation, Chicory uses a silicon-based, "general-purpose" acceleration engine to which it can add one or more accelerator modules.
In turn, each module is dedicated to translating, accelerating and optimizing a particular instruction set, media type or data stream. No changes are required to the processor core or operating system.
Initial products will work with ARM embedded CPUs. Support for other architectures is in the works. Like Nazomi, Chicory is targeting wireless comms.