Transmeta Takes The Wraps Off Mobile Processors - InformationWeek

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Transmeta Takes The Wraps Off Mobile Processors

The mystery is solved. After months of speculation over what's going on at Transmeta, the company lifted its shroud of secrecy today and announced it is developing a family of microprocessors based on a radical concept designed to allow high-performance mobile PCs and Internet devices to run on battery power for up to an entire day, vastly exceeding the limits imposed by current technology. The processors--to be marketed under the brand name Crusoe--use far fewer transistors and consume less wattage than x86 processors sold by Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, Transmeta officials claim. That, in turn, allows for significantly reduced power consumption.

The key to such efficiency is what Transmeta calls its code-morphing software, which implements basic computing instruction sets that would be handled by the CPU in more traditional chip designs. "The software does a dynamic translation from the x86 application to the underlying processor," Transmeta CEO David Ditzel said at a launch event today. Software commands are interpreted on the chip by Transmeta's Very Long Instruction Word engine.

Transmeta says it plans to roll out two Crusoe chips this year, both of which will support Windows and Linux. The first, dubbed the TM 3120, is a 400-MHz microprocessor designed to power palm- and book-size Internet access devices. Unlike portable devices on the market, Transmeta officials say Crusoe-powered products will be able to display the full range of Web content because the chips are fully x86 compatible. At present, Web content must typically be reformatted and downsized for display on most palmtop devices.

The second chip that Transmeta will introduce is the TM 5400, which the company says is expressly designed for notebook computers. At 700 MHz, the TM 5400 is faster than any mobile chip sold by Intel or AMD.

And as a would-be rival, Transmeta has a significant price advantage over those companies. The 3120 will be priced at between $65 and $89, while the 5400 will sell for between $119 and $329. Intel's latest mobile processor, the 650-MHz Speedstep Pentium III, is priced at $637.

Intel officials had no comment on Transmeta's announcement. Representatives for AMD did not immediately return phone calls.

What the Santa Clara, Calif., company did not disclose today was which, or how many, original equipment manufacturers it has secured to introduce computing products based on Crusoe. However, a source close to Compaq says that company has been in talks with Transmeta, noting that "if they can deliver on the low power and high performance that they promise, they have a winning combination."

Hilary Glann, global mobile marketing director for Hewlett-Packard's notebook computing division, says her company is taking a close look at the technology. "We really think it brings a lot of opportunities in the market for more cost-effective and lighter-weight solutions." Additionally, IBM confirmed that it will manufacture Crusoe chips on behalf of Transmeta--a design-only shop with no more than 500 employees worldwide--at its plant in Burlington, Vt.

During today's announcement, Transmeta also shed more light on who is behind the company. While it's been known for some time that Linux founder Linus Torvalds, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and billionaire George Soros are attached to the company, Transmeta revealed an executive roster that includes some of the microprocessor industry's bigger names. Among them are president and chief operating officer Mark Allen, a former executive at Cypress Semiconductor Corp., and board chairman Murray Goldman, a former executive VP at Motorola's semiconductor division.

Transmeta officials said they are planning an initial public offering.

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