Analysts: too early to assess Crusoe's impact

After keeping its operations secret for four and a half years, Transmeta officials yesterday morning released the first two members in a family of microprocessors called Crusoe, which are designed to power notebook computers and smaller mobile devices that hook up to the Internet.

One of the chips, aimed at ultraportable notebooks, runs at up to 700MHz and will run a host of software types, including Microsoft Windows applications. The other, aimed at even smaller devices, runs at up to 400MHz and runs a mobile version of the Linux operating system, officials said.

Although the clock speeds look impressive, analysts said they tell only part of the story.

Transmeta's chips use an innovative technology that the company calls "code morphing", which allows Crusoe to run x86 programs by translating them into instructions that can be read by the chip's underlying hardware engine. What's not yet clear, analysts said, is how much performance will be sucked up in that translation process.

Yesterday Transmeta didn't show performance figures comparing its chips with offerings from, say, Intel, noted Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with research firm Insight 64. Without seeing such a side-by-side comparison, it's impossible to tell yet how Transmeta's chips will perform against Intel's mobile Pentium III, Brookwood and other analysts said.

Crusoe "may perform better or worse than an x86 chip", depending on how efficiently its code morphing technology works, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst with Mercury Research.

Another question that wasn't answered is who will build systems using Transmeta's chips. The company didn't disclose the names of any manufacturing partners at this morning's launch, something that troubled Rob Enderle, vice president of Giga Information Group.

"The thing that makes me so nervous is that there are no hardware (manufacturers) here," Enderle said after this morning's press conference. "I don't have anything to wrap my arms around and say, ah, yes, this is something that's coming to market soon."

Transmeta did say it is shipping samples of its products to customers, noted McCarron, who predicted the first Crusoe computer could make its debut at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas in November.

Despite the uncertainties, Transmeta has a team that carries "real pedigree", and the company has developed a product that looks impressive on paper, the analysts said. The coming months will tell if Transmeta can turn Crusoe into real player in the highly competitive microprocessor market, they said.

Enderle predicted that manufacturers will be attracted to the chip because it supports exactly the features that notebook users are looking for -- longer battery life and more lightweight machines. Transmeta's products have been developed specifically with the Internet in mind, he noted, unlike Intel's Pentium chips, which have been modified over the years to run Internet-enabled computers.

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James Niccolai

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