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January 5, 2004

Transmeta debuts denser, faster Crusoe processors

While upstart chipmaker Transmeta Corp has been making a lot of noise about its second-generation Efficeon X86-compatible processor, which was unveiled in October 2003, the company has not backed off on improving its first generation of Crusoe X86 processors. Yesterday, Transmeta announced two new Crusoe chips that are aimed at low-power markets such as blade servers and thin clients, and which will seemingly compete against the Efficeons.

By CBR Staff Writer

The new Crusoe chips are dubbed TM5700 and TM5900, and they are kickers to the TM5800 that made its debut in June 2001 running at between 700MHz and 800MHz using a 130 nanometer process at its foundry partner, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Transmeta eventually cranked up the clock on the TM5800 to 1GHz, but the Crusoe processor has been plagued by a lack of enthusiastic vendor support among the big players in the workstation and server markets, who are more interested in selling Pentium and Xeon solutions that customers are familiar with than taking many risks.

Transmeta is pressing on with the innovation, and even though it killed off the TM6000 follow-on to the TM5000 series of chips, it jumped right to the Efficeon TM8000, which will be shipping soon, and continues to improve the TM5000 series. Eventually, as consumers want smaller PCs that don’t burn a lot of electricity and create a lot of heat and as companies start reckoning the costs of servers that are woefully inefficient, Transmeta’s ideas about low power computing will catch on. But it may have to wait a long time for efficient computing to go mainstream.

The TM5700 and TM5900 processors are based on the same Crusoe core that was used in the TM5600 (the first Transmeta chip that came out to much fanfare in January 2000) and the existing TM5800. These processors use a 128-bit VLIW (very long instruction word) processing technology that allows up to four 32-bit instructions to be processed per clock.

The new Crusoes also have the LongRun power management power management technology that allows the processor to automatically adjust its voltage and clock speed to meet the needs of applications running on the chip rather than just running full-out like most other processors sold today do.

All of this means the same processing oomph takes up a lot less electricity and generates a lot less heat. The chips can, in fact, be used in fan less systems, much as Via Technologies’ Eden X86-compatible processors can be. To that end, Transmeta will introduce a Mini-ITX form factor reference system board that will include a TM5900 processor and schematics, design guides, processor specs, device drivers, and other stuff that workstation and server makers need to build machines. The Mini-ITX form factor is considerably smaller than the current variants of the ATX form factor that are used in desktop PCs, workstations, and servers. Mini-ITX boards are being used for small footprint PCs and embedded devices.

The Crusoe TM5700 and TM5900 processors will be shipping in volume starting this month. Microsoft Corp gave them a vague endorsement for its Windows Embedded variant of the Windows platform, and MontaVista Software, which peddles embedded Linux, also gave the new Crusoes its seal of approval.

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Wyse Technology, one of the dominant makers of thin clients, also said that it would be using the processor. None of the server or blade server makers said anything about it, and neither did laptop and notebook PC makers. This has always been a problem for Transmeta, which had Toshiba, Hitachi, NEC, and Fujitsu as its key partners early on, but which has not yet allowed it to become a volume player in even niches of the X86 processor market.

Thus far, server makers have by and large steered clear. But with HP already having booked orders for 1 million seats for its blade PC prior to its launch at the end of 2003, Transmeta is probably still pretty pleased.

This article is based on material originally produced by ComputerWire.

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