Transmeta: delayed chips to ship by year end

But 1GHz part still no closer, it seems

Transmeta reiterated its roadmap at Comdex yesterday and pledged that its delayed 0.13 micron 667MHz TM5500 and 800MHz TM5800 Crusoe processors will ship in volume by the end of the year.

That may pacify key Transmeta customers Sony and Fujitsu who this week gave the chip company a public whipping for not shipping the Crusoes on schedule. Both vendors admitted that they have had to delay the introduction of new sub-notebook PCs because of Transmeta's inability to ship chips on time.

The delays are believed to have been behind the fall from grace of the company's previous CEO, Mark Allen, who was booted out last month.

Transmeta CTO Dave Ditzel once more said that the TM5800 would reach 1GHz sometime in the first half of 2002. It will be followed by the TM6000 in the second half of next year. Like the TM5800, the TM6000 will be clocked at 1GHz, but it will offer two to three times the performance of its predecessor, Ditzel claimed.

The TM6000 is based on a new architecture and will sport an integrated graphics engine and built-in hard disk and I/O interfaces. Crusoe chips already feature integrated memory and PCI bus controllers.

It will also support memory error-checking codes (ECC) in order to enhance its appeal to server makers. This despite the fact that ECC is no longer necessary, DRAM chips being rather more reliable than they were when ECC was developed, said Ditzel.

ECC is "a marketing check-off item", he added. "It's not really necessary, and if you use it, it runs up the cost of your DRAM."

That may be the case, but server vendors want it, and they've been choosing Intel chips over Transmeta's for that very reason, Ditzel admitted. He damned Intel's promotion of ECC as a "red herring". He also dismissed Intel's benchmarks for failing to take into account of the rest of a system's impact on power consumption and heat generation - ie. all the bits that are built into a Transmeta chip but not into Intel's. Transmeta's own figures do take these factors into account, Ditzel claimed.

Ditzel's presentation followed Intel's launch of a 700MHz Ultra-low Voltage Pentium III processor aimed, like Transmeta's chips, at very high-density server set-ups.

Intel's Low-voltage and Ultra-low Voltage parts have so far been aimed at beating Transmeta in the mobile market, with some success. Transmeta has made a number of significant design wins in Japan but has largely failed to crack Western markets, though arguably that's as much because US and European prefer full-spec. notebooks rather than the sub-notebooks to which Transmeta's chips are most suited.

Transmeta has also tried to push its chips into the server market, targeting systems that try to cram in as many processors as possible and for which low-power consumption and minimal heat generation are essential. Intel's 700MHz part targets that same arena.

Intel plans to roll-out faster server PIIIs through 2002, so Transmeta's rapid move to 1GHz is essential if it's to build a sufficient lead to counter Intel's marketing machine, as are the power savings that arise from the latest generation of Transmeta's LongRun technology and its shift to 0.13 micron fabrication. ®

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