Transmeta Corp. hopes software it is developing in conjunction with its new Efficeon microprocessors will address one of the thorniest problems addressing the next generation of computer chips: wasted power.
Speaking Tuesday at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, David Ditzel, Transmeta's vice chairman and chief technology officer, said the new software, called LongRun2, is intended to reduce the amount of power inadvertently dissipated by a microprocessor, a phenomenon called power "leakage."
"The industry hasn't really known where we're going to go to solve this problem," said Ditzel. "Leaking power could be the fundamental limiter of Moore's Law if we don't solve this problem," he said, referring to Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore's famous observation that the number of transistors on a computer processor tends to double every 18 months.
As the components on microprocessors become smaller, it becomes easier for the electrons they carry to slip out of the wires and gates of the processor, meaning that as the industry begins to use 90-nanometer and 65-nanometer processes to build computer chips, leakage is becoming more of a problem. A nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter.
Processes such as IBM's silicon-on-insulator technique, which covers parts of the chip with an insulating layer to prevent this kind of leakage from occurring, can help solve the problem. However, they are more complex and expensive than LongRun2, according to Art Swift, a senior vice president of marketing with Transmeta.
Transmeta's technology is based on the LongRun software that the Santa Clara, California, company introduced in January 2000 to manage the power consumption of Crusoe systems, Swift said. LongRun decreases or increases the clock speed and amount of power supplied to a chip depending on how heavily it is being used, he said. The LongRun2 software simply applies these concepts to managing power leakage, reducing leakage by cutting back on power when possible, he added.
The first Efficeon systems, which are expected by year's end, will not include the LongRun2 software, but it will begin to ship with Efficeon some time in 2004, Swift said. The company has a version of LongRun2 working with its Crusoe microprocessor, but Transmeta has not yet decided whether to ship LongRun2 with Crusoe, Swift added.
Also in 2004, Transmeta expects to begin volume shipments of its second generation of Efficeon processors, Ditzel said. These chips, which will be manufactured by Fujitsu Microelectronics Inc., will be based on 90 nm process technology and will vary in clock speed and power consumption from 2.0GHz and 25 watts at the high end, to 1.0GHz and 3 watts at the low end. This family of processors will be composed of the TM8800, the lower cost TM8500, and the small TM8820.
A third generation of Efficeon, which will be based on either a 90nm or a 65nm process, is expected in 2005, Ditzel said.
Sharp Corp., Amoi Electronics Corp. Ltd. and Amtek on Tuesday became the first companies to announce plans to produce systems based on the Efficeon processor. All three companies are planning to ship tablet or notebook Efficeon systems.