Crusoe chip launches in web device

Some IT managers hope the Transmeta Crusoe chip will deliver longer battery life and increased competition to processor giant Intel.

But despite this week's announcement that Gateway 2000 would be the first PC manufacturer to use the chip, information technology managers say it's unclear how much impact that development will have in corporate IT environments.

Gateway said it will power its line of wireless internet appliances with the Crusoe chip and the Mobile Linux operating system, both from Transmeta. Crusoe is a software-upgradable processor that Transmeta claims consumes less power, takes up less space and runs cooler than comparable processors from Intel or National Semiconductor.

Gateway, which owns a stake in Transmeta, said it chose Crusoe for just those reasons. The company won't comment on its plans for using the chip in notebooks or other devices.

Compaq and IBM plan to use it in ultra-lightweight portables later this year, said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group. Neither IBM nor Compaq would comment for this story.

Corporate users are circumspect. Gary Bernstein, senior systems analyst at a global oil company, said he would be interested in devices based on Crusoe because he's always looking for new technology.

"I'd at least give it a try," added Jeff LePage, director of MIS at American Fast Freight, a shipping company in Kent, Washington. "In my opinion, it's best suited for smaller handheld devices, not for the desktop," he said. "But I'd be willing to give it a shot."

Crusoe's battery-life advantage may dissipate, however, as vendors scale up from internet appliances into notebook computers, said Tom Halfhill, senior editor of "The Microprocessor Report" newsletter in Sunnyvale, California. "Even if you're getting one-tenth the power consumption [from Crusoe], you won't get 10 times the battery life," said Halfhill.

Another hot-button issue for IT managers is choice. "The more we get away from one-stop shopping from Intel and Motorola, the better off we are," said Bernstein.

Will Transmeta give Intel some needed competition? Probably not beyond its low-power niche, said Halfhill.

"Strangely enough, Transmeta is not putting much pressure on Intel," said Halfhill. "A Transmeta chip is about 10 per cent more expensive than an Intel Pentium III chip of comparable performance."

Computerworld reporter Linda Rosencrance contributed to this article.

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