ARM plans fast Java chips

Accelerated Java could be coming to your next mobile phone
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Accelerated Java could be coming to your next mobile phone

ARM Holdings plans to unveil a series of chip designs later this year that will allow mobile devices to run everything from 3D games to enterprise applications on Java.

ARM's chip architectures power handheld computers like the Pocket PC, mobile phones and set-top boxes, among other things, and are manufactured by semiconductor giants such as Intel and Texas Instruments. The UK company doesn't manufacture its own products, instead relying on licence fees for its intellectual property (IP).

The move to integrate Java into the ARM chip architecture is likely to have a wide impact, since ARM powers so many consumer electronics products. For example, a significant proportion of its revenues come from mobile phone makers like market leader Nokia, Psion and Windows CE devices commonly run on ARM processors, and Palm Computing recently announced it will move to ARM cores this year. ARM also claims its cores are used in 75 percent of the emerging market for 3G wireless processors.

The Java programming language, created by Sun Microsystems, is designed to be portable, so that applications can be downloaded and run by any machine with a Java virtual machine. This is particularly important for mobile devices, which lack the monolithic operating system standards of the PC world.

For developers, Java eases the process of programming for different platforms. An application can be written once and simply tuned for different devices.

"Java comes at a time when people are looking at a more connected society," said Mike Muller, ARM chief technical officer, referring to the proliferation of consumer electronics devices connected to the Internet and to each other. "Java is one of the things that will help glue all these different pieces together."

He noted that in Java an enterprise application could be written both for a corporate server and a portable client device.

Java is currently being implemented on smartphones in Japan and other portable platforms, but ARM promises its implementation will solve nagging performance, power and memory issues.

The ARM926EJ-S will be launched in the second half of this year and will support Jazelle, ARM's hardware acceleration for Java. ARM claims that Jazelle reduces Java consumption by 13 percent compared with non-Jazelle ARM processors, despite including additional hardware, because the Java code is run more efficiently.

The ARM926EJ-S will support EPOC, Linux, Palm OS and Windows CE. ARM7EJ, also released later this year, is aimed at simpler, lower-cost systems.

Next year ARM plans to release the ARM10EJ, which will more than double the Java speed of the ARM9-based Jazelle chip.

However, ARM does not believe -- as do some Java enthusiasts -- that Java will eventually replace code written directly for a specific platform. To achieve its portability, Java runs via a "virtual machine" within the device, which inevitably means lower performance than non-Java code.

"However good Java is, there's a cost to this functionality," said Muller. "If you know the only platform [the code is] going to run on is GameBoy Advance, you're not going to write it in Java. People who got the religion and implemented only Java are now left a little bit high and dry."

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