SARATOGA, CALIF. (01/19/2000) - The long anticipated processor from the secretive startup Transmeta Corp. was finally unveiled today. Called Crusoe, the chip has until now been best known for one of its main backers, Linus Torvalds, rather than for its technology.
The heart of the technology revealed today is a microprocessor that attempts to remove the complexity and expense of designing a processor by putting that complexity into software rather than into silicon.
Crusoe, which will be the brand name for Transmeta's first family of mobile chips, 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 like Web pads and handheld computers, promised David Ditzel, chief executive officer of Transmeta.
Ditzel called the software "code-morphing software," because it translates traditional instruction sets such as Intel Corp.'s x86 instructions to allow them to run on the simplified processor.
"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 Corp.'s Bell Laboratories.
Two chips were unveiled: the TM5400, a 700MHz processor for lightweight notebook computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system, and the TM3120, a 400MHz processor for Internet appliances running the Linux OS.
The processors will be marketed for the mobile market and consume an average of 1 watt of power, which, according to Ditzel, will greatly enhance battery life.
This is achieved by a new power management technology developed by Transmeta which the company calls LongRun.
Transmeta began sampling Crusoe last year and expects to be shipping commercial products to manufacturers by mid-year. The company will sell manufacturers the chips, along with a range of software technologies to help them design mobile Internet devices based around Crusoe.
"Transmeta has all the technical pieces to enable computer manufacturers to very quickly bring entire products to market," Ditzel said. Those pieces include modified versions of a mobile version of the Linux operating system, he said.
The company has technology backing from IBM Corp., which will provide Transmeta with access to some of its most advanced semiconductor technologies, Ditzel said. IBM has set up a team in Burlingame, California, dedicated to working on Transmeta products, he said.
Transmeta now employs 200 people. Most are at the company's Santa Clara, California, headquarters. Others are in Japan and Taiwan, where much of the PC manufacturing industry resides, Ditzel said.
"We're not a small company anymore," he said.
Other notable employees include Chairman Murray Goldman, a former vice president of Motorola's semiconductor products division, and board member Hugh Barnes, former CTO of Compaq Computer Corp. The company two weeks ago appointed former nVidia Corp. vice president Mark Allen as its president and chief operating officer, Ditzel said.
The name Crusoe comes from the famous fictional traveller Robinson Crusoe, who was washed up on an island after a shipwreck.
"We think it brings a name that denotes mobility," Ditzel said.
Transmeta clearly will find itself on a head-on collision course with Intel Corp. if it delivers on its promise of a low-power notebook chip that runs Windows applications. Power consumption has been the enemy of Intel and its rivals as they try to boost the power of their mobile chips.
Just yesterday, Intel unveiled a new technology that lets its notebook chips work in different power modes depending on whether a user is mobile or plugged into an electrical outlet.
Transmeta will demonstrate a range of products using Crusoe at a press conference here today. One of them is a "Web pad," a small form-factor device with a touch-screen keypad developed by Transmeta, which will be one of the technology components the company makes available to customers.
Transmeta Corp., based in Santa Clara, California, is at +1-408-919-3000 or on the Web at http://www.transmeta.com.