IBM researchers are experimenting with technology that could change the pricing rules for desktop computers.
IBM's TJ Watson Research Center has prototyped a microprocessor that can run Java code and handle Very Long Instruction Words (VLIW) - a technique for greatly increasing microprocessor performance. The technology could allow IBM to build a single-board NC or set-top box with unprecedented price/performance for this cost-sensitive market.
Current Java-optimised chips, such as Sun's picoJav, execute Java code directly in hardware, which is considerably slower than the Risc-style approach it is taking, according to IBM.
The research team unveiled the plans at an international Java workshop held last week in Israel. However, the team stressed that they could not give timescales for development of a real world product. "We are only researchers here. We are not talking about products," said IBM's Watson Center manager Kemal Ebcioglu.
The presenters added: "We envisage our chip as part of a single board network computer consisting of the chip, an L2 cache, DRAM and boot ROM, and a 6XX-to-PCI bus bridge link to various peripherals on the board."
Few companies have managed to create mainstream products using VLIW technology, although Intel's planned Merced is expected to incorporate some VLIW code.
To date, VLIW has been used mainly in specialised media processors, largely because it needs special instruction set converters to run applications designed for existing architectures such as X86.
However, IBM will offer a software translator, codenamed Daisy, to convert Java and PowerPC code into machine code for the processor to execute.
The research team claims this will offer 100% compatibility with existing PowerPC and Java applications.
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