VNU Net: Will Crusoe remain on a desert island?
Jul 05, 2000, 18:26 (1 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Jo Ticehurst)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Jo Ticehurst, VNU Net
Last week's PC Expo show in New York saw a string of computer
giants parading prototype machines based on US startup Transmeta's
low-power Crusoe processor.
Despite the apparent support, however, it is still unclear
whether the chip's promise will translate into commercial sales and
give the company a place in the highly competitive processor market
already dominated by the likes of Intel and Advanced Micro Devices
The Crusoe chip was launched earlier this year amid claims that
it would reduce the cost and power consumption of mobile
Transmeta, which boasts such developers on its payroll as Linux
operating system creator Linus Torvalds, based the Crusoe family of
processors on a new approach to chip design. It used VLIW (very
long instruction word) code morphing software to undertake many
processor functions that had traditionally been done using
This enabled the supplier to make its chip smaller, thereby
generating less heat and making it ideal for use in laptops.
Transmeta claims that, when running, the Crusoe chip generates
around one watt of power, compared to an Intel Pentium's 15 to 20
watts. This means it uses significantly less battery power, and
enables lightweight notebooks to work for up to eight hours. In
standby mode, Crusoe generates about 20 milliwatts of power.
Ahead in the long run
The company's LongRun power management technology also enables the
chip to optimise itself for processing the application that is
running at the time, continually adjusting its speed and voltage to
provide maximum battery life.
Because Crusoe is compatible with x86 Intel chips, it can run
most PC operating systems and applications that are available
At PC Expo, four PC manufacturers demonstrated Crusoe-based
'ultralight' notebooks. Fujitsu, Hitachi, IBM and NEC all said it
would be possible to start shipping products based on the offering
by the fourth quarter of this year.
Gateway has also said it will use the firm's processors to power
the forthcoming line of internet appliances that it is developing
with online service provider, America Online.
But in a teleconference last week, IBM executives were quick to
point out that the launch of a notebook based on Crusoe was only a
possibility and not a definite plan.
Leo Suarez, IBM's programme director for worldwide marketing,
said: "At PC Expo, we demonstrated a Thinkpad 240 in which we had
replaced the Intel motherboard with one from Transmeta. We are not
formally announcing a Thinkpad with a Transmeta chip, but the
capability to do so in the autumn."
He explained that the chip addresses two of the biggest
frustrations currently suffered by mobile device users: battery
life and weight.
"Our engineering team will be validating that we can bring to
market this type of machine," said Suarez. "We need to do some
tuning of the power management circuitry, and talk to our customers
to gauge their interest. It's not clear at the moment how it
compares in the minds of our customers. Based on a successful
engineering design and positive feedback, we will be willing and
ready to introduce a Transmeta mini-notebook in the fall."
Such a laptop would be targeted at business users and small
companies looking for "leading edge" products, he added.
Big Blue said it also planned to talk to its large enterprise
customers about pilot testing the notebook to enable them to judge
for themselves whether it would be of benefit or not.
"If they show interest, we would then follow up with additional
Thinkpads based on the chip in the first half of next year," Suarez
He added that, if delivered, the notebooks will run Windows 2000
and will not affect the company's relationship with other chip
manufacturers such as Intel. Pricing will also be "comparable" to
IBM's current Thinkpad 240 range.
"What we see is a unique opportunity to change the computer
experience, so if any other chip manufacturer could provide the
same performance we would be willing to consider it. It's not about
switching vendor or strategy, but we have not seen anything close
to what Transmeta can do," said Suarez.
While analysts were also impressed by Crusoe, they did not see
Transmeta appealing to users outside the mini-notebook niche.
Martin Reynolds, a senior analyst at research company Gartner,
said: "Crusoe's low power can effectively add 50 per cent or more
to the run time of a four pound notebook. The smaller the notebook
gets, the smaller the battery gets and the more valuable the
effects of Crusoe will be."
"Crusoe is a totally novel approach to x86 computing and can
deliver significant power advantages over Intel's products. Its
characteristics, applied carefully, can deliver unusually
competitive products in the small notebook and multimedia notebook
class," he added.
IDC analyst Andy Brown agreed, but said that the chip needed to
obtain further industry backing to be really successful.
"It's also got to be adopted by the industry. It needs some of
the big names in the mini-notebook market behind it for success,
like Sony, Toshiba and Sharp. Companies showing potential products
is not the same as saying they are bringing out definite products,"
Brown added that other vendors were likely to wait and see how
IBM's plans worked out before agreeing to include the processor in
future product lines of their own. "It has enormous potential and
there have been a lot of demos, which is good PR on IBM's part. It
shows it is using leading edge technology and is willing to take on
new companies," he said.
But he warned it was unlikely that Intel would allow Transmeta
to steal a march on it in the notebook arena. "Intel won't make the
same mistake it made with AMD's K6-2. It took its time to react
with Celeron, and AMD managed to push its chip in the low-end
processor market," he said.
"Crusoe has some powerful savings, but Intel has recently
announced its Speedstep technology which enables lower clock speeds
and lower wattage. Surely what Transmeta is doing is not radically
different to that? It will all depend on pricing. All Intel has to
do is cut its prices dramatically to squeeze Transmeta out of the
market," he added.
- VNU Net: IBM casts doubt on Transmeta commitment(Jul 05, 2000)
- TwoMobile: Gateway & Transmeta to release Linux WebPad(Jun 30, 2000)
- ZDNet UK: Transmeta and Linux to run the future home(Jun 29, 2000)
- eWeek: Compaq, Dell cool to Crusoe chip(Jun 28, 2000)
- The Register: Transmeta signs stack of notebook suppliers(Jun 28, 2000)
- The Register: Transmeta grows Crusoe line-up(Jun 28, 2000)
- eWeek: Transmeta's Crusoe wins 'ultralight' friends at PC Expo(Jun 28, 2000)
- TechWeb: Transmeta Unfolds Road Map, Secures OEM(Jun 28, 2000)
- Wired: Transmeta: Lightweight Contender(Jun 28, 2000)
- CNET News.com: Major notebook players jump on Transmeta bandwagon(Jun 27, 2000)
- CNET News.com: Linux server maker [Rebel.com] to use Transmeta chips(Jun 27, 2000)
- VNU Net: PC giants unveil Transmeta-based notebooks(Jun 27, 2000)
- eWeek: Crusoe ready to sail - Notebook debut of Transmeta's new mobile chip raises hopes, questions(Jun 26, 2000)