Memory Madness in Java

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Even if a processor was powerful enough, memory can dictate whether a device will support a given game Although the CPU affects the overall speed of a game, memory problems can crop up at any time, because new objects are constantly being created
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Different micro devices also offer different screen resolutions Although more and more color displays are coming out, especially in Japan, most mobile phones are still black and white Drawing operations can be executed with different speeds on different devices The more pixels a screen has, the more time is needed to draw a complete screen Most PDAs, for example, have large screens, generally 160x160 pixels or more This makes for slower drawing times compared to smaller devices with the same processors
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Processors of the Future
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The microprocessor is the brain and heart of every device The J2ME CLDC specification doesn't force the hardware manufacturers to conform to any special processor, or even keep to a specific processor speed Rather, any 16-or 32-bit processor can be supported Although Nokia, Siemens, and Motorola currently offer high-end mobile devices (such as the Nokia Communicator 9110, Motorola Accompli A008, and Siemens SL45i), these devices are expensive and geared toward a business audience The most addicted game players are young and don't have a lot of their own money to spend on devices As such, most of the gaming will likely be done on phones with very slow, cheap processors
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Memory Limitations
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Memory is the place where the brain of the device stores its data, and where the list of things that need to be done (the execution code) is located The J2ME memory model can be split into three sections:
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Working memory Where the device stores data needed only during the lifetime of the game When the game is terminated, everything in this memory is forgotten When the game is started up, the complete execution code is also copied here as the classes are loaded This memory also holds all bitmap images created from PNG files Storage memory Where the device stores RMS data in its own local database When the game is terminated or the device is turned off, the information stored here remains Application memory Where the device stores installed games and other applications This memory can take the same place as storage memory
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All these memories have their limitations, depending on free memory Although working and storage memory have an impact on the game execution, the application memory dictates how large the game can be and how many games can be installed onto a given device
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Working Memory
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When the game is started up, it is first copied from the application memory into the working memory and then executed In fact, only the classes that the classloader needs (the starting classes) are copied Other classes are loaded upon their first instantiation If games are too large to fit into working memory, the device notifies the user with an out-of-memory warning That restriction is one of the reasons why J2ME devices ask developers to restrict the size of their applications Another reason is the fear that larger applications would crash the mobile network If all 2G mobile networks are capable of 9600 bytes per second, an application with a size of 50KB needs almost a minute to be transferred from the Internet into the application memory If thousands of users try to download a large popular game at once, then the network might become clogged During execution, a game constantly allocates memory for primitive data and objects The created information takes up more memory space and can be divided into three groups:
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Static data Created when the class is loaded into the working memory It occupies part of the memory and stays there as long as the game lives Global data Created when the instance of the class is created This stays in memory as long as the object is alive When the object is destroyed by the garbage collector, the data disappears too Local data Created each time the method that creates the variables is executed At the end of the method, local variables become candidates for garbage collection Local data is created and destroyed so often that is one of the biggest reasons for memory fragmentations
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Memory Fragmentation Memory fragmentation happens when working memory is completely allocated with smaller objects After a time, some of those objects are destroyed and some parts of the memory space are cleaned up If developer checks for available memory, the device will return the correct value But when the game tries to allocate a large object in memory, the object can't be placed anywhere because there is not enough consecutive room for it The memory looks like Swiss cheese a lot of empty space, but none of it in one clean block
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A good implementation of garbage collection should take care of this problem Most J2ME virtual machines, however, don't have enough room for a good implementation 11, "Making the Most of it: Optimizations," contains tips and tricks for getting around this problem In general, the key to avoiding fragmentation and other memory issues is to avoid constantly allocating and de-allocating objects Instead, try to create every object you need ahead of time For example, you can create a pool of sprites When you need a new object, grab an unused sprite from the pool instead of creating a new one When you're done with the object, drop it back into the pool Memory Matters All in all, it is important to build a compatibility list for any game you release You should carefully check the specification for any device you are targeting, because every gadget has a different amount of working memory For example, the Siemens SL45i has 128KB of available working memory, the Motorola i85 has 256KB, and the Motorola Accompli A008 has 640KB Some larger games will only run on certain devices
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