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Transmeta Unveils New Efficeon

Transmeta is setting up its next-generation Efficeon processors to run roughly at double the speed and half the wattage of its current designs.

At the Fall Processor Forum in Silicon Valley this week, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker demonstrated two new 90-nanometer TM8800 (Efficeon) chips -- 1.6 GHz and 2.0 GHz -- that only use 3 watts of power. Previous versions like the 0.13-micron Efficeon TM8600 reached speeds of 1.0 GHz at a maximum power of 7 watts.

Although Transmeta got its start targeting low-power mobile applications, it recently broadened its scope to appeal to OEMs looking for more processor efficiency (i.e. a better balance of low-power consumption, high performance, low cost, and small size).

The Transmeta Efficeon processor, in particular, targets the low-end blade and high-end workstation market, as well as mobile, wireless and embedded devices. It is slated for a wide range of environments, including thin-and-light notebook computers, mainstream notebooks, tablet PCs, BladePCs, cluster workstations and fanless media centers.

The processors are also suitable for smaller form factors like ultra-personal computers (UPCs), which are being championed by companies like OQO, and features three high-performance bus interfaces.

Transmeta said the next version of the Efficeon will support the new x86 instruction extensions for multimedia and video processing known as "SSE-3."

Using Fujitsu's advanced 90nm CMOS technology, the Efficeon TM8800 uses a Northbridge chipset design that includes a DDR400 memory controller and AGP 4X graphics interface and connects to other chips through a HyperTransport bus.

The chips include what Transmeta calls AntiVirusNX technology. The Data Execution Protection feature debuted in Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 2 and has been adopted by Intel and AMD. Among other benefits, the hardware/software technology was designed to prevent common buffer overflow-style attacks.

Critics contend Transmeta's designs even prompted Intel and AMD to reinvest in their fanless and low-power technologies.

"There is no doubt that Intel and AMD collectively own the server chip space," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the San Jose, Calif.-based Enderle Group. "But Transmeta has released some products for the low end."

HP is one OEM pleased to be using Efficeon chips. The processor is an integral part of its Consolidated Client Infrastructure architecture, where it uses blade racks to virtualize desktop hardware. By moving PC processing, storage and networking from the desktop to the data center, HP said its backup, maintenance and management functions are simplified and that its saves clients up to $1,200 per user, per year in total costs.

According to Greg Rose, director of segment marketing at Transmeta, by using the Transmeta processor, HP can pack 280 blades into one 42U rack (i.e. 20 processors per 3U modular enclosure, 14 per rack).

Another OEM using Transmeta chips is Orion Multisystems of Santa Clara, Calif. Orion is using the Efficeon in a supercomputer designed primarily for the scientific, high-computing power workstation market. As one of its specs was to be able to use a standard wall unit, the company harnessed clustered Efficeon processors to keep the heat rate down.

Transmeta's Rose said more OEM partnerships should be announced in the next couple of weeks.

Despite these and other gains for Transmeta in the server and high-end workstation market, it remains to be seen whether the chip's ability to maximize operations per-watt, per-dollar translates into server market share in the long term.

The chips are being manufactured at Fujitsu Electronic Devices Group's Akiruno Technology Center near Tokyo. The 1.6 GHz Efficeon is already in limited production and shipping in Sharp's new PC-MP50G and PC-MP70G notebook computers in Japan. The 2.0 GHz is scheduled for later this year.

Editor's note: Internet.com writer Drew Robb contributed to this report.