Chip Startup Targets Growing Net Appliance Market

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (01/24/2000) - Transmeta Corp., a 5-year-old "startup," has come out of hiding and is boldly claiming its new power-efficient processors could help create a new generation of high-performance, low-cost Internet appliances and thin clients.

Until now, the secretive Transmeta's major claim to fame was its high-profile list of employees and investors - among its engineers is Linus Torvalds, father of the Linux operating system. Last week, during a much-hyped nationally televised press conference, Transmeta pulled off the veil from its family of microprocessors, dubbed Crusoe.

The first iteration includes two processors: the TM5400 for Windows-based notebooks; and the TM3120, which could be embedded in Internet appliances or thin clients running a version of the Linux operating system. The cost of the chips will range from $65 to $329, and their speeds will run from 333 to 700 MHz, the firm says.

Transmeta says its chips can translate and execute code written for Intel x86 Pentium processors. They do this by converting the x86 instructions into very long instruction word commands, which can be read in the chips' specially designed software, not in silicon, as is done in most other microprocessors, Transmeta says.

Because of its simple design, the Crusoe family will use only about one watt of electricity, guaranteeing longer battery life than most other chips, which generally consume about 100 watts. But the company says Crusoe will still be able to power a PC or run streaming video applications off the Net. The chips should start appearing in products by midyear.

Transmeta's processors will probably not revolutionize the network device industry, nor is the idea behind the processors entirely new, says Martin Reynolds, an analyst with Dataquest, a San Jose consultancy. But in the long run, the chips could enable the creation of more powerful handheld Web devices and thin clients for the anticipated millions of mobile Internet workers that will eventually come online, he says.

Network appliance maker S3 plans to build 'Net appliances based on Crusoe chips.

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