NEW YORK (06/27/2000) - In a much anticipated unveiling, Transmeta Corp. on the opening day here at the PC Expo conference Tuesday displayed the first set of laptops computers powered by the company's much-heralded, low-watt Crusoe processor.
With zero fanfare and no formal presentation, Santa Clara, California-based Transmeta officials are demonstrating ultra-thin laptop prototypes from Fujitsu Ltd., NEC Corp., and Hitachi Ltd., as well as a generic "Web pad."
IBM Corp. also is showing one of four Crusoe-powered ThinkPad 240 models, which the company announced it would begin testing last week. But IBM is not participating in the Transmeta demo, and has its Crusoe-powered ThinkPads at its own booth here at the trade show, even though the Armonk, New York-based technology company built the Crusoe processor for Transmeta.
The Transmeta Web pad weighs approximately 2 pounds, has a 10-inch color screen, is equipped with an 802.11 wireless card Ethernet card, and will sport USB connections for outboard devices, depending on final manufacturer design, according to Ed Mckernam, the director of marketing at Transmeta.
The NEC offering is a 3-pound laptop with a 10.4-inch screen, and the Hitachi flavor weighs in at 3.5 pounds, making it the lightest notebook with a DVD drive, according to McKernam.
Using the Crusoe processor, Hitachi is attempting to get more than 2.5 hours of battery life while running a DVD movie. Previous attempts to yield such battery life while playing a DVD resulted in only 1.5 hours using a comparable Intel Corp. processor, McKernam said.
Although Transmeta is targeting the ultra-light device category, the possible applications of Crusoe and its underlying technology reach far beyond that, McKernam said.
The 6-by-4 inch Crusoe processor board, which manufacturers design into their systems, can run Windows 98 or 2000 in form factors usually reserved for Windows CE, McKernam said.
Crusoe is also X86-compatible, and may find its way into a variety of Internet appliances that should arrive round the time frame of the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show, McKernam said.
Also, Transmeta has pledged to keep the wattage requirements of all future Transmeta processors below 6 watts and will add additional caching technologies to increase performance, and has committed a team of technicians to "tear apart applications to improve Crusoe's morphing software," McKernam said.
By morphing, McKernam means that Crusoe translates data running in an application, maps repeated processes into "translation memory," then repeats it in the most efficient way, optimizing the entire computing process.
"We have a whole group looking at how applications run, and how to improve our performance running them," McKernam said.
McKernam said that as this morphing technology evolves, owners of Crusoe powered devices will eventually be able to go to the Transmeta Web site and download the latest code morphing software, upgrading their system remotely.
As many as six computer manufacturers, including those mentioned above, will begin shipping Crusoe-powered systems by the end of this year, "but a couple of them are behind closed doors, for competitive reasons," McKernam said.
IBM will continue to test its Crusoe-powered ThinkPads before committing to any large-scale manufacturing decision. But Edward Petrozelli, vice president of marketing for desktops and Net devices at IBM, said that Big Blue's decision to test Crusoe in its own waters and the company's absence from the Transmeta trade show booth did not indicate a lack of confidence in the processor.
"I have heard of no hesitation on our part," said Petrozelli on IBM's adoption of Crusoe. "I think it's one of the finest mobile devices. Even with [Intel's] Celeron processor, we went through exhaustive testing, that's just standard operating procedure for IBM."
Fujitsu and NEC have both struggled in the domestic laptop computer market, and those familiar with the industry believe their quick adoption of the near-celebrity Crusoe processor is an attempt to gain ground back into that market. But one analyst attending the show opined that the road to the broader domestic market begins at the corporate level.
"Compaq and IBM have established their [laptop] markets through the enterprise space, and have docking stations that are compatible with each new roll out.
[Companies such as] Fujitsu have proprietary docking stations, and that's where they will need to go to work. Enterprise won't adopt these systems is they think they'll have to replace all of them next year," said Tim Scannell, a research analyst at Quincy, Massachusetts-based Mobile Insights.
Transmeta's Crusoe processor has enjoyed a great deal of attention in anticipation of the manufacturer launch. The processor, which operates on power requirements as low as 1-watt, has apparently sparked a new round of competition between established rival chipmakers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), in the low-power processor space.