"We're betting that (the increase of compute-intensiveness) changes the way you handle programs ... to be more object-oriented and parallel," Tremblay said. "Programs can be structured so various parts can be run in parallel. An application has the potential of running N-times faster if you have N-processors." The first MAJC chip, called MAJC 5200, will be have two processors, running at 500MHz each. However, Sun has said MAJC chips could, in the future, include as many as 1,024 processors on the same chip.
IBM will manufacture MAJC, at first using a 0.22-micron process with copper interconnects. Subsequent MAJC chips will move to 0.18-micron and will run as fast at 700MHz, also using copper. The chip will eventually move to IBM's higher-performance, silicon-on-insulator design, which boosts the performance of transistors, resulting in a better performing chip.
As it is, however, "two 500MHz cores would run applications faster than a one 1GHz (Intel) chip," Tremblay says.
MAJC uses a VLIW, or very long instruction word, architecture. VLIW, which processes multiple instructions in parallel, is a popular architecture for high-performance digital signal processors (DSPs) from Texas Instruments and Motorola DSPs are used in a range of devices, including cellular phones.
Architecture a la Crusoe, Itanium
Sun chose VLIW because it is also physically less complex than RISC chips such as PowerPC, or CISC chips such as Intel's x86. VLIW chips also have lower power requirements and the potential for higher clock rates. Transmeta's Crusoe and Intel's Itanium also use VLIW.
"The only goal for this chip is to make your application faster. We're not asking programmers to program any differently," Tremblay said.
Programmers will need to write to Java, however. MAJC will then use a dynamic compiler technology, called HotSpot, to translate instructions to its own VLIW set -- except in certain applications in which customers will compile their operating system or applications directly to the chip.
By writing to Java, programmers will also get full use of the multithreading capabilities of MAJC. Applications written in C or C++ can be sped up on the fly, but only to about 1.6X, using a technique called Space-Time Computing.
However, all of this work, whether rendering graphics acceleration or decrypting a transaction, will be fairly transparent to the end user.
"All the user should care about is how fast the applications run," Tremblay said.
When it comes to MAJC's success, analysts say Sun needs to bring it to market as quickly as possible.
"If (Sun) doesn't get MAJC out there quickly, it's going to get trodden over by the next generation of consumer graphics accelerators," said Martin Reynolds, a Dataquest analyst who covers processors.
ATI Technologies, for example, announced a new processor Monday that includes hardware morphing.
"They're getting very fast. You're starting to see this stuff (such as hardware morphing) in real time," Reynolds said.
When it comes to applications in other areas such as e-commerce, Sun is going to have to establish a name for MAJC.
"There will be other processors (customised) for cryptography," Reynolds said.
"We predict that we'll have volume this year -- then it's in the hands of our customers," Tremblay said.
Products are expected in the first quarter of next year.
Take me back to Part I