AFTER FIVE YEARS of development made famous by industry celebrity Linus Torvalds, secretive start-up Transmeta last week finally unveiled its brainchild: Crusoe, a line of Intel-compatible microprocessors designed for mobile PCs and devices that access the Internet.
Crusoe will bring increased power and longer battery life to a range of mobile devices used to access the Internet, from full-fledged laptop computers to new types of emerging devices, such as Web pads and handheld computers, promised David Ditzel, CEO of Transmeta.
The key to Crusoe's capabilities is its "code morphing" technology, which converts instructions written for x86-type processors, such as Intel's Pentium III chips, into Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) instructions that can be read by Crusoe's underlying hardware. Using its LongRun power management technology, Crusoe can also "learn" about applications as they run and adjust operating speed and voltage.
"Transmeta's new idea here was not to use silicon itself to solve the problem, but to use software to solve this problem," said Ditzel, a former chief architect at AT&T's Bell Laboratories.
However, the lack of any benchmarks and only one known Crusoe licensee -- S3, which will use the chip in Internet devices -- raised the eyebrows of chip analysts.
"The real test is how it shows up on the standardized benchmarks -- that will tell the story," said Nathan Brookwood, a senior analyst at Insight 64, a microprocessor research company, in Saratoga, Calif. "The 700-MHz frequency claimed for the chip is the internal speed of the VLIW chip. What happens when you put this thing next to a 500-MHz [Pentium] III is unclear."
Rival chip maker Intel was skeptical of claims that devices using the Crusoe chip will run on a single battery charge all day long.
"The CPU consumes ten to twenty percent of overall power. The rest of the power is used by the components like the CD-ROM drive and the LCD. So even if the power consumption of a CPU is absolute zero you can only increase the battery life by 10 to 20 percent," a representative of Intel said.
Two chips were unveiled: the 500-or 700-MHz TM5400 for lightweight notebook computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system, and the TM3120, a processor for Internet appliances running the Linux OS that will ship with a 333-MHz and 400-MHz version. Transmeta announced in a statement that it tried to price the chips economically enough for use in Linux-based Web pads, or non-PC devices, that will be priced from $500 to $999.
Transmeta began sampling Crusoe last year and expects to be shipping commercial products to manufacturers by midyear. The company is also hatching plans to deliver a mobile version of Linux to hardware providers.
Transmeta Corp., in Santa Clara, Calif., is at www.transmeta.com.