Low-power chips on display

Transmeta's Crusoe processor brought the issue of low power consumption to the forefront of the industry when it appeared in third-party mobile computers last June at the PCExpo in New York, and it became the first processor specifically designed to operate under low power conditions.

From its inception, officials at Transmeta said Crusoe is capable of running complex operating systems like Windows 2000 using as little as one watt of power.

But after announcements last week from both IBM and Compaq that the companies would wait before integrating Crusoe into their mobile computer offerings, Transmeta's Crusoe arrives at Comdex without the endorsements of two major suppliers of mobile computers to business and industry.

Instead, Crusoe will appear at Comdex wrapped in products from some of the same companies that supported Crusoe at the PCExpo, including Sony, NEC, Fujitsu, and Hitachi. Microsoft is also expected to show Crusoe in the company's fledgling Tablet PC, and wearable computer maker Via will have Crusoe running in the company's latest offerings.

IBM had a Crusoe-powered ThinkPad model 240 at the PCExpo, but now plans to show that same model loaded with a low-power-consuming 500-300MHz Pentium III SpeedStep processor due in 2001 from Intel, sources said.

Compaq Computer and Dell Computer will also use low-power-consuming Intel SpeedStep chips for their mobile computer demos. And Hewlett-Packard, which will use Comdex to announce its entrance into the ultraportable computer market, the target market for Crusoe, has opted to use Intel processors as well.

Experts say Crusoe's unique software-reliant processing technique is to blame for performance numbers that are not adequate in the eyes of IBM and Compaq.

Both Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have also been quick to develop their own low-power-consuming processors to take advantage of the growing market for such chips.

However, Tim Bajarin, the president of Creative Strategies, an industry think tank, doesn't believe Crusoe has lost any of its lustre.

"They'll be high profile [at Comdex] because they are defining what [the low-power] space is," Bajarin said. "You have to give Transmeta credit as they are the ones who have identified this and fundamentally paved the way for anyone else to go in this space."

Besides demonstrating its upcoming 500-300MHz Pentium III SpeedStep processor designed to compete with Crusoe, Intel will also have it's next-generation Pentium 4 desktop processor in a variety of PCs from leading vendors, including Dell and Compaq, sources said.

The Pentium 4, using Intel's NetBurst Micro-Architecture, is a significant leap from Intel's Pentium III processors, sources said.

A burst of features

Intel's Pentium 4 NetBurst Micro-Architecture includes several new features:

A rapid execution engine that runs certain instructions at twice the processor speedA 400MHz system bus with three times the bandwidth of Pentium IIIsEnhanced streaming technology for improved video, speech, 3-D, and multimedia.

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Dan Neel

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