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Compaq cools on Transmeta Crusoe

Power-saving chip not up to scratch for US market?

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Compaq appears to have canned plans to launch a notebook based on Transmeta's power-efficient x86-compatible processor, at least in the US. Like IBM and Toshiba, the PC vendor has concluded that Crusoe doesn't light the candle.

At least, that's what US Bancorp Piper Jaffray analyst Ashok Kumar claimed yesterday in a report on the newly IPO'd chip company.

"Transmeta has been designed out at Compaq," Kumar wrote in a report. "Transmeta failed to note that doubling battery life requires significant changes in the rest of the system, changes that would also benefit an Intel-based notebook."

Compaq itself denies the claim, falling back on the old 'we haven't decided yet' line, but since Kumar's claim comes hard on the heels of IBM's decision to abandon its own Crusoe-based product and an earlier report from Toshiba that the chip isn't all it's cracked up to be, you have to wonder if he's onto something.

Sources close to Compaq said that the company is continuing to develop a Crusoe-based machine, but probably only for the Asian market, according to CNet.

Certainly Compaq has ties with Taiwanese notebook manufacturers, many of whom are preparing Crusoe-based designs. With most of the world's notebooks built in Taiwan by a handful of OEMs - which is why Transmeta has been so keen to court their support - the appearance of some Crusoe-based machines seems likely.

To date, only Sony has shipped Transmeta-based kit - its low footprint WebCam-equipped Vaio PictureBook. That machine has, however, been made available in the US and Europe as well as the Far East. Hitachi and NEC have said they will ship machines powered by Crusoe.

Sony, for one, seems happy with the chip. And sources claim that IBM cancelled its Crusoe notebook under pressure from Intel, and not because the chip isn't up to scratch. Of course, said sources are close to Transmeta partner companies - ie. Taiwanese laptop makers - so it's not as if they have no axe to grind here.

If there's any truth in that claim, it's entirely possible that Compaq has been leaned on too. Though if Sony can resist the pressure, we don't see why IBM, Compaq and Toshiba can't.

More likely, the cost and performance arguments Transmeta is making aren't sufficiently clear cut to persuade said companies to sign up publicly.

Transmeta knows this, of course, which is why it's strategy is really based on sales of its lower-performance 3x00 family of chips, the ones aimed at Web pads and Net appliances rather than notebooks. Getting the Crusoe 5x00 family in big brand laptops grabs Transmeta headlines, but it's clearly a tough sell. Much better to get chips into boxes where x86 compatibility and state-of-the-art clock speeds aren't issues, but long battery life is. ®

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