Recall trouble hits Transmeta

The company began recalling a total of 284 computers based on the TM5600 Crusoe processor due to a problem with memory inside the processor itself.

"There is an error in the cache on-board the processor," said Sammy Sakamoto, a spokesman for NEC. He said the company to date has sold around 2800 machines based on the Transmeta processor since they went on sale in Japan in mid-October. Sakamoto said NEC suspects the problem is not due to a fundamental problem with the processor itself, but rather a faulty batch of chips.

Nonetheless, news of the recall sent other Japanese notebook makers, including Fujitsu, Hitachi and Sony, that are also using Transmeta chips scrambling to check whether their machines had the same problem.

The faulty cache causes problems when Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system is loaded onto the machines, said Sakamoto, and was discovered by the company during its own testing. NEC has yet to receive any complaints from customers regarding the issue, he added.

"This matter is now under investigation," said Ted Kanno, a spokesman for Sony, which has released two notebook models with the microprocessor in question. "These two models are applicable in terms of CPU and we are investigating how this will impact the line-up and what action we should take to better serve customers."

Later in the day a spokesperson for Sony's PR company in the US said there would be no recall there. "There is no recall," said Danielle Ward, a spokeswoman at Mindstorm Communications, which is contracted by Sony Electronics. "We have received no calls on the Sony Vaio C1VN Picturebook."

The Sony Vaio C1VN Picturebook is the company's only model in the US to run on Transmeta's chip. It uses the TM5600 Crusoe chip with a clock speed of 600MHz. Ward said Sony would make a more formal announcement during the afternoon Thursday (US time).

A spokesman for Hitachi said his company was also looking into the issue.

In contrast, Fujitsu said it believed it had nothing to worry about. "We're not affected by it," said Bob Pomeroy, a company spokesman. "We use the 533MHz chip and not the 600MHz one so, as far as we know, we don't see any problems."

In a brief statement issued Wednesday, Transmeta said it was working with NEC on the issue and "stands behind Crusoe and will continue to work with its customers to insure Crusoe's quality and reliability."

The Crusoe microprocessors NEC is replacing came from a limited manufacturing batch, Transmeta said in the statement. "Any remaining inventory of this material at NEC or other customers has been returned to Transmeta. Transmeta is currently shipping Crusoe microprocessors to its customers to replenish their production lines to meet the demand for Crusoe systems."

Additional reporting by James Evans.

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