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Major vendors cagey on Transmeta support

IBM, Compaq just evaluating Crusoe, not committing to it

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IBM's interest in Transmeta's Crusoe mobile CPU appears to be cooling. According to IBM program director Leo Suarez, cited by VNUNet, Big Blue's Crusoe-powered ThinkPad 240, shown at PC Expo last week, was just a proof-of-concept machine, not a product announcement.

"Our engineering team will be validating that we can bring to market this type of machine," said Suarez. "We are talking to customers to gauge their interest and, based on a successful engineering design and positive feedback, we will be willing and ready to introduce a Transmeta mini-notebook in the fall.

So, it's all down to you, dear notebook buyer, not IBM whether it releases a Crusoe-based machine. It's also down to Transmeta, which isn't expected to ship its 5600 CPU - the chip in the ThinkPad 240 - until much later this year. So while IBM might introduce the prooduct in the autumn, it probably won't ship until Q4.

The sticking point for IBM - and probably for other notebook vendors - is Intel's SpeedStep technology, designed like the technology at the heart of Crusoe, to minimise a mobile CPU's power requirements. Chipzilla's marketing machine can be relied upon to promote SpeedStep as a superior solution to Transmeta's, and its price-setters to undercut its rival.

Transmeta's main weapon is its relationship with Taiwan's main notebook producers, who together account for the vast majority of the world's portable PC production. Taiwanese manufacturer Quanta is an investor in Transmeta, and has had its name linked to the production of IBM's ThinkPad 240, a connection that IBM officials have apparently confirmed. That IBM will ship an ultralight ThinkPad 240 made by Quanta is therefore reasonably certain - whether it will contain Transmeta technology is another matter.

More certain is Quanta's relationship with Compaq. Officials from The Big Q recently told CNet that the company was indeed exploring the possibility of releasing a Crusoe-based machine, almost certainly with Quanta's help. The two companies this week signed a far-reaching manufacturing deal that will see Quanta start churning out notebooks for Compaq next autumn. Again, whether they will be based on Crusoe is open to question, and much will depend on how much of a threat Intel views the new chip.

Compaq is also an investor in Transmeta, but that's no real guarantee the two will enter into a commercial relationship. ®

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