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Last month, we discussed challenges our ideal Java "Black Box" wireless PDA would face if it were designed with today's technology. Our Black Box would run all the cool Java applets that you are developing, but it would be slow, expensive and would eat batteries for lunch.

We introduced a developing technology, known as Embedded DRAM (E-DRAM), which would eliminate the space and power needed by separate DRAM chips, and help make our ideal Black Box a reality. Let's look a little more deeply at this technology, and see when and how it will be made available for our Black Box.

The idea is simple. Add a microprocessor core onto DRAM silicon, toss in I/O and some timing functions, and Voila!, our problems are solved...Sort of. The CPU core next to DRAM on the same chip means incredibly fast memory fetches, making a stack-based machine really fly. Performance is also enhanced because you can use full address and data lines; no need to multiplex lines to compensate for a limited number of pins available in the microprocessor package. As an added benefit, the CPU speed can be throttled down - allowing even lower power consumption, while maintaining reasonable performance. Included would be basic I/O functionality - PDA device-specific interfaces would be available with the addition of a custom ASIC.

This developing E-DRAM technology is on the market, but in a somewhat limited role. Mitsubishi currently offers an E-DRAM processor with 2MB of DRAM. Since display controllers need to integrate significant amounts of RAM with logic, they also would benefit from E-DRAM technology. NeoMagic now markets display controllers that integrate logic and DRAM. This is good, as our PDA will also need a fast, sharp, low powered display.

Our future E-DRAM processors and display controllers will be built on DRAM fabs. The standard DRAM business is tough, with low margins and very high costs. You can bet that anyone who now makes DRAMs is trying to get into the profitable new E-DRAM market. Companies who don't make DRAMs are licensing the E-DRAM technology. Recently, Motorola announced a licensing deal that could bring Embedded DRAM to their processor families.

With our Java Black Box, we will need at least 4MB, and probably 8MB, of memory. There is a big gap between how much memory we will need and what current E-DRAM technology can deliver. We will need to either wait for the next generation of E-DRAM processors or find a way to slim down the JavaVM and our applets to fit into 2MB.

When will the next generation of E-DRAM processors be here to enable our Java Black Box? Not tomorrow, maybe not this year. However, from the Windows PC market we have learned that hardware will continue to get faster and cheaper - at a rate quicker than we can imagine. The driving force is new markets, and new revenue opportunities.

The new wireless PDA world is waiting for two things: Cheap, fast, low power PDAs and your cool Java applets. Create the applets, the PDA hardware will come. There is too much money sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the new wireless PDA age to begin.

About The Author
Randy Cook currently manages Business Development for Vsis, a start up focused on high-value silicon solutions for Java, PDAs and 3D. Vsis is funded by Mitsubishi. 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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