Transmeta's Crusoe Is One for the Road

On January 19, Transmeta announced that it's developing a family of high-performance, low-power microprocessors for the next generation of handhelds, laptops, mobile devices, and Internet terminals. Transmeta says that the chips will run both Windows and Linux OSs. Transmeta, a 5-year-old start-up, received considerable notoriety when it enticed Linux founder and keeper of the code, Linus Torvalds, to America as a key employee. But the company has shrouded its product plans in mystery, making them the subject of much speculation. Torvalds described the company's product as a smart chip in his Fall Comdex '99 talk—the first inkling of the product's nature. The chip, which is named Crusoe for Daniel Defoe's fictional character Robinson Crusoe, will let devices run from battery power for a full day. Transmeta claims that Crusoe uses significantly fewer transistors in its design than other processors to achieve these power reductions; thus, Crusoe consumes much less wattage than the Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) processors that sell in this market. The LongRun software that comes with the chip lets it constantly adjust its voltage to meet the demands of applications running on the computer or Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). In addition, LongRun incorporates much of the processor's functionality into the software, lowering the transistor count and letting the chip run faster, which ultimately lets Crusoe reduce power needs significantly over today's mobile processors. The Transmeta 400MHz 3120 processor, the first Crusoe to ship, is for the palm-sized PDA and book-sized Internet terminal marketplace. These chips display complete browser content, which differentiates devices based on Crusoe from devices based on Intel or AMD processors that typically display condensed browser content. The initial price for the 400MHz 3120 is $89; the 333MHz 3120 costs $65. The Transmeta 700MHz 5400 processor, next on the release schedule, will run high-performance, lightweight, notebook computers or laptops. Transmeta claims that Crusoe will be the fastest mobile chip available when it ships. The fastest mobile chip for the laptop market today is Intel's recently announced 650MHz Pentium III chip with SpeedStep technology (for more information, see "Intel Spouts Dual-Speed Laptop Chip"). The initial price for the 700MHz 5400 will be $329; the 500MHz 5400 will cost $119. Transmeta plans to ship Crusoe later this year. IBM is manufacturing the chips, and several major OEMs are evaluating the technology. Transmeta hasn't announced any companies that have adopted Crusoe yet, so the next big step is to obtain major OEM contracts. The true measure of Transmeta's success will be seen when products start shipping in early 2001.

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