SAN FRANCISCO (05/03/2000) - In January, Transmeta Corp. ended five years of secrecy when it unveiled two models--the TM3120 and TM5400--of its Crusoe processor designed for portable computing. The company recently closed an $88 million round of financing, including investments by America Online, Compaq, Gateway, and Sony. PC World talked with the company's chief operating officer, David Ditzel, about the products behind the hype and why he thinks Transmeta can challenge chip king Intel.
PCW: What are Crusoe processors, and how do they work?
DITZEL: Crusoe processors are the first with advanced software that's part of the processor itself. It's part hardware and part software, and the software part doesn't burn nearly as much power. So we can build a mobile chip that is compatible with PC software, but that dramatically extends battery life.
PCW: Could you change the software and alter the way the chip works after it is in a product?
DITZEL: [You would] go to our Web site and download it like you download a new BIOS. Plus, the longer you run your program on a Crusoe chip, the better it gets because it learns what you do with your computer and tailors the program execution to that behavior. It is a very different kind of processor.
PCW: Because there is a software component, can your chip get hacked?
DITZEL: There is no danger from that because our software is like micro code and you never hear about people hacking micro code. It is only accessible from the internal chip, so we think it's completely secure.
PCW: So how will your 700-MHz Crusoe TM5400 chip benefit notebook users?
DITZEL: Two things: longer battery life and lighter weight. We hope to enable very thin, sexy notebooks with high [processor] speeds, and to eliminate the need to carry extra batteries.
PCW: How is your LongRun technology better than Intel's SpeedStep technology?
DITZEL: SpeedStep lets you run slow on batteries and then plug into the wall and run at the advertised speed. LongRun varies the frequency and the voltage to match what you need. When you need more performance, it ramps up to the maximum frequency; when you take a sip of coffee, it takes the frequency way down.
PCW: But will it perform as well as Intel's 700-MHz mobile Pentium III processor? And how about price?
DITZEL: People will see similar or better performance with Crusoe on most systems. Hopefully they will cost less, because Crusoe chips are less expensive and you don't need as much cost in a notebook for thermal engineering.
PCW: When will we see Crusoe-based notebooks, and which vendors will offer them?
DITZEL: Most of the notebook makers won't announce until mid-year, and consumers will be able to buy them during the second half. We hope to be the sexy hot product for the holiday season. You don't want a sweater under the Christmas tree, do you?