Sun touts new chip as pure MAJC

Sun says its upcoming MAJC graphics processor will also boost broadband and the Web. Says one Sun exec: 'The Web is pretty boring.'

Sun Microsystems thinks it has produced some silicon that's pure magic -- er, MAJC, that is. Sun's MAJC chip -- the name is short for Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing -- is aimed at delivering superior processing for multimedia, and it is moving ever closer to shipping. The chip has gone through the engineering process, and manufacturing by IBM Microelectronics has begun.

The chip is now being tested, and samples are going out to a broader audience than had been expected.

MAJC, announced last August, is a completely new processor, and it aims to apply multiprocessor technology to speed the performance of computing-intensive applications, including graphics, video and speech recognition.

For consumers, it means that even though MAJC will often be operating in the background it will be "an enabler" for broadband services, said Marc Tremblay, Sun's chief architect for MAJC. "People want to have video on demand and browse the Web in 3-D. However, the (network) infrastructure needs to be enabled, and so do the servers."

While MAJC was originally intended for use as a graphics processor -- and will debut first as a graphics chip for Sun workstations -- Tremblay and his group now have much grander plans for the chip. They would like to see MAJC used to liven up the Web.

"We've gone from (3-D) television to basically flat Web pages," he said. "The Web is pretty boring."

Tremblay says MAJC can help spice up the Web in a number of ways -- including via servers.

MAJC, Sun believes, could be used to speed performance of Web servers by lending its computing power to e-commerce-related tasks, such as decryption of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) transmissions, and by enabling greater graphics performance for applications using 3-D.

"All of a sudden, we're finding applications in electronic commerce because it's becoming more compute-intensive," said Tremblay, who also alluded to partnerships with content providers to help them "realize" the potential of broadband Internet access.

Servers are not the only areas in which Sun will deploy MAJC. The company is also working with top networking vendors to work the processor into network infrastructures.

Sun sees MAJC as an embedded processor for use in next-generation networking hardware, which must handle data and voice traffic. MAJC will likely be used in devices such as cell-phone base stations.

MAJC will also find applications in digital imaging, where it will work inside copiers and fax machines, Tremblay said.

While these new applications may be different from the ones Sun originally envisioned, they play into the basic set of assumptions behind MAJC.

Sun designed the chip with the assumption that today's multimedia, networked-based changes would continue to increase the workload of computers, especially servers, by becoming much more "compute-intensive."

Sun also assumed that devices of any import would be networked and that those devices would be running its Java computing language.

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