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Technology Review: The Software Chip

Oct 27, 2000, 16:33 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Claire Tristram)

"What is it about Transmeta CEO Dave Ditzel that makes you want to believe him? Maybe it's the way he unabashedly uses words like "cool" and "neat." Maybe it's because he had the audacity to build his upstart chip company within view of Intel headquarters. Maybe it's because he never completes a sentence, so enthusiastic is he about Crusoe, his company's brand of microprocessors. From last January, when Crusoe was announced in a blaze of fanfare, until mid-August, when the company filed to go public, Ditzel made himself hoarse pushing the Crusoe chip. Whether in front of 200 engineers or a single reporter, his message was unflagging: Crusoe-the Intel-compatible chip with one-tenth the power requirements of a Pentium III-is going to change the world of computing forever. 'Crusoe is low-power, it's compatible and it's high-performance,' he said in one of a series of interviews held before the August filing. 'That's our mantra.'"

"This summer, the company and Ditzel went silent for the quiet period that follows every initial public offering. But by then the Crusoe message had developed a life of its own: Not since the Apple iMac had there been such a fuss in Silicon Valley like the one Crusoe has brought ashore. It's no surprise that Valley insider rags Upside and Red Herring ran Transmeta as their cover stories last spring, but before the quiet period began, Ditzel was also quoted in Time, USA Today and a horde of other consumer publications. Transmeta's publicity efforts have fed in part on the company's hiring of Linux author and open-source software guru Linus Torvalds. Torvalds has been part of the software design team at Transmeta, and has lately been working on a version of Linux that will complement Crusoe's application in the exploding market for mobile devices...."

"As is often the case in technology innovation, practice proved harder than theory: Transmeta's first chip design ran so slowly that it took the chip half an hour just to boot the operating system. But with each of four chip revisions, the team learned more about binary translation. Five years of painstaking work-performed by a brigade of 200 engineers backed by several hundred million dollars of venture capital-produced a chip that ran fast enough to compare favorably with Intel processors. In January of this year, Transmeta announced the first two hybrid silicon/software chips in the Crusoe line. The first, called TM5400, is a 700-megahertz chip for the ultrathin, ultralight Windows notebook PCs. It runs software written for Intel chips on a fraction of the power a Pentium consumes. The second, the TM3120, is a 400-MHz chip designed to run Internet appliances using a version of Linux that Torvalds developed for mobile devices."

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