Sun Outlines Plan for Powerful Multimedia Chip

Sun Microsystems Inc. is developing a powerful microprocessor that will be capable of transmitting video, audio and graphics in real time over broadband networks, officials said.

Bill Joy, a Sun founder and the company's chief scientist, positioned the chip as a powerful engine for running new multimedia applications expected to emerge as broadband Internet access becomes more widespread among businesses and consumers. Joy made his comments in a speech Tuesday at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California.

Called the MAJC 5200, it will be the first processor based on the MAJC (Microprocessor Architecture for Java Computing) architecture, which Sun began talking about in August. MAJC is designed for use in new types of networked appliances which some observers expect to proliferate in the "post-PC era."

Judging by the claims Sun is making about the chip -- which is not expected to ship in finished products until the second half of 2000 -- users had better start brushing up on their multitasking skills.

The MAJC 5200 will be able to decode two MPEG (motion picture experts group) video streams in real time while simultaneously downloading surround sound audio or running a Web browsing session, according to Sun officials. That would allow a user to watch two television channels at once, for example, while shopping at a Web site for new office equipment, they said.

The processor is also expected to be able to run dozens of voice-over-IP (Internet Protocol) channels and encrypt and decompress the calls over an Ethernet connection, allowing it to be used in powerful gateway servers. It will also support for up to six-way videoconferencing sessions, allowing a user on a split-screen watch video streams of five other participants at a meeting, Sun officials said.

These are aggressive claims considering that Sun does not expect to deliver the first engineering samples of the chip until the second quarter of 2000, and has yet to say when the final product will ship.

Sun is also being tight-lipped about what types of systems the MAJC chips will be used in, except to say that the first MAJC computers will be made by Sun itself.

"Most people would agree your computer will look a lot different in 10 years, and you might not interface with it in the same way," Sun spokesman Russ Castronovo said. "Think 'post-PC era.' "The MAJC 5200 is expected to have a clock frequency of 500 MHz, Sun officials said. Its ability to handle several complex tasks at once are derived in part from a novel design that incorporates two VLIW (very long instruction word) microprocessors onto a single piece of silicon, the officials said.

More information about the chip can be found on the Web at http://www.sun.com/microelectronics/MAJC/.

Sun, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-960-1300, or at http://www.sun.com.

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