Transmeta keeps a cork on power with 90nm Efficeon

Transmeta's 90-nanometer Efficeon processor is ready for partners to use in ultraportable notebooks, thin clients, and embedded designs, the company announced this week at the Fall Processor Forum.

The company has discussed the processor, called TM8800, for several months but Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer David Ditzel highlighted several details of the chip for the first time at the conference in San Jose, California. It is currently shipping the 1.6GHz version of the new chip in two new notebooks from Sharp.

Transmeta was able to cut the power consumed by the TM8800 in half at 1GHz, Ditzel said. The first generation of the Efficeon processor consumed 7 watts of power at 1GHz, but the new version uses only 3 watts of power at that speed, he said.

Reductions in power consumption are usually the normal state of affairs during a process technology shift but this has started to change at the 90nm generation. Structures within 90nm processors are becoming so small that current leakage is a larger problem than ever, unless you've always taken power consumption into consideration as a design philosophy like Transmeta has, Ditzel said.

Other companies have barely managed to eke out any frequency increases in their 90nm parts, but Transmeta has doubled the clock speed of its most powerful Efficeon processor from 1GHz to 2GHz, Ditzel said. It raised the power consumption of its 2GHz parts in order to accomplish that, but those chips are still suitable for thin-and-light notebooks with a 25-watt ceiling on power consumption, he said.

The faster chips will be available later this year and into next year, Ditzel said. The company plans to demonstrate the 2GHz version of the TM8800 at the Fall Processor Forum Tuesday.

The company will soon have a greater range of processors across clock speed and power consumption categories, said John Heinlein, director of strategic partner initiatives at Transmeta. This should help Transmeta appeal to a class of customers that is looking for greater flexibility from a chip supplier, he said.

Transmeta made its name on providing chips for ultraportable devices, but it is looking at expanding its business into thin-client and embedded devices as well, Heinlein said. During the conference, the company announced agreements with Hewlett-Packard and Wyse Technology to use its chips in new thin-client devices.

Future processors from Transmeta will arrive with twice as much cache, faster buses, and with the ability to do significantly more work per clock cycle, Ditzel said. Transmeta prefers to introduce more significant architectural changes on mature process technologies, and plans to introduce the third-generation of Efficeon in 2005 as the technology matures, he said.

This year's Fall Processor Forum was abuzz with talk of dual-core designs, but Transmeta is not planning a dual-core chip anytime soon, Heinlein said. The company is doubtful that the benefits of dual-core technology extend down into the low-power mobile processor world, and asserts they only apply to high-end processors that have run out of any other ways to increase performance, he said.

Transmeta will stick with low-power single-core designs as it rolls out new features such as 64-bit technology, virtualization techniques, and faster clock speeds over the next few years, Heinlein said.

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