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Congratulations to JDJ, as the fourth issue is now in the hands of the Java development community. When I discussed doing a column with the JDJ publishers, I intended to get specific with regards to hardware for Java systems and devices, especially the concept of a portable Java PDA. As with discussions of any new technology, it was necessary to create a base of knowledge (where we are) and to spark the imagination (what could be).

In the first column, we took a big picture view of Java implementations, from the VM/OS software down to the microprocessor hardware. In the second column, we looked into a Java-enabled crystal ball and saw a new world of Java PDAs that would be marketed as cellular phones are today.

One of the characteristics of these future Java-based PDAs would be the "BlackBox" nature of the hardware. As a Java developer, you would not care about what the platform is: the fastest/coolest/cheapest/lowest powered Black Box would win, and all Black Boxes would run your application.

Of course, the performance of your Java application is only as good as the performance of the Black Box it is running on. Starting with this column, we will explore the state of the Black Box; what hardware technology is here and what is on the horizon.

One of the most obvious manifestations of the microprocessor has been embedded controllers. From gas pumps to microwave ovens, embeddedcontrollers have become a driving force for new consumer and office products.The microprocessors used in these applications are a compromise between three forces which drive product design: Price, Performance, and Power (e.g. energy consumption). Portable devices trade off performance for battery life (Power). Consumer devices trade off performance for price.

In the future, Java PDA designers will face the same trade-offs as current embedded systems designers. Java developers will have the advantage, over their embedded competitors, of a consistent development environment, well-defined APIs, and a large pool of Java code and coders. However, the Java application will use more memory than the typical embedded application. Adding additional memory in a portable device creates some major hardware challenges.

Memory, in the form of DRAM silicon, is cheap and getting cheaper. But DRAM still uses power and space, both of which are at a premium in portable and low cost Java devices. When I talk to Java developers, they see cheap memoryas a creative canvas for applications. Hardware developers see the Java's 4-8MB memory appetite as larger PC boards, expensive part test cycles, and bigger power supplies. When you add the power needs of DRAM to CPU, display,and modem hardware, battery life will be measured in minutes, not hours. Just look at the first generation of handheld Windows CE devices - Internetaccess via an internal modem will drain a set of batteries in 10 minutes!

But wait... help is coming in the form of Embedded DRAM processors. These devices are essentially DRAM with a RISC microprocessor core and basic I/O on a single piece of silicon. Putting the DRAM next to the microprocessor has several advantages:

Performance: Very high CPU-to-memory bandwidth
Power: Lower power requirements compared to current off-chip DRAM
Price: With one chip CPU + DRAM, system packaging and tests costs are lowered

The current state of the art in Embedded DRAM is a RISC CPU core and 1-2MB of memory with simple 16-bit I/O. So, the technology is beyond the lab, and heading for the Java PDA. Future versions of Embedded DRAM chips with additional memory and I/O will hold the key to the creation of the perfectJava Black Box. Next month, we will take a close look at the Embedded DRAM products and technologies. Now, if we can only get low-powered wirelessmodems

About The Author"
Randy Cook currently manages marketing fof Java-related technologies at Vsis, a start up focused on high-value silicon solutions. Randy has worked in development, product marketing and sales management of computer, digital, video and interactive TV products. He holds a BSEET from Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo. Randy is married and spends his non-marketing life raising two sons, and tweaking stereo equipment.

 

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