Transmeta Sharpens ‘Astro’ for Blade Servers

Low-power chipmaker Transmeta Monday said its upcoming TM8000 processor — also known as “Astro” — is being honed to run a gamut of devices ranging from ultra-light notebooks to high-density blade servers .

The Santa Clara-based company said it is still on track to deliver the next-generation chip in the third quarter of 2003. The formal introduction of the TM8000, and its new brand name, are expected later this year.

But whereas the company had originally targeted the Astro’s use in ultra-light notebooks (10-inch and under displays) and laptops (12- and 14-inch displays), company executives are now broadening their horizons to include blades and small office/home office servers.

“We’re looking at including the chip in the desktop server area because we see it as a growth sector,” Transmeta Director of Marketing Michael DeNeffe told internetnews.com.

Analyst firm IDC estimates back that claim up saying servers with the blade design should reach $2.9 billion by 2005. The group also predicts that by 2005, the blade unit design will have captured approximately 23 percent of entry-level server unit sales and 10 percent of entry-level server revenue.

The TM8000 is being produced as a 256-bit VLIW version processor with eight 32-bit instructions executed per clock. Transmeta said fab-less partner TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) is still in pre-production with the 0.13-micron process processor. Transmeta was guarded about Astro’s final speed capabilities. Earlier conversations with company execs pointed to the TM8000 as clocking at 1GHz.

The chip includes integrated Northbridge core-logic technology, which connects the CPU to the system memory and the AGP and PCI buses. The three new high performance bus interfaces include an on-chip 400 MHz HyperTransport bus interface, a technology taken straight out of AMD’s design playbook as well as Double Date Rate 400 (DDR-400) DRAM memory interface; and AGP-4X graphics interface all on the same die. Previous versions of Transmeta chips took the PCI graphics approach.

“By incorporating an AGP interface directly on the TM8000 processor, Transmeta will be able to achieve design wins in new product platforms that were previously unavailable for TM5000 series processors,” said graphics industry analyst Dr. Jon Peddie.

The processor also incorporates a standard Low Pin Count (LPC) bus, allowing it to communicate with new, high-density LPC Flash memories.

And whatever the form, DeNeffe says the Astro’s low power allows it to run without a noisy fan; making it great for running on a desktop.

“Once you get used to that silence, you don’t want to go back,” said DeNeffe.

The Astro is expected to have the same kind of attributes as Transmeta’s other well-known chip — TM5800 or Crusoe — with its Code Morphing software. The company said the chip should also rival the Crusoe line in the area of power consumption. The Crusoe currently powers many ultra-light notebooks such as Sharp’s Actius MM10 notebook with internal Wi-Fi (now available in the U.S.) as well as Hewlett-Packard’s Tablet PC.

The company is also investing in what it calls “Ultra Personal Computers” such as the palm-sized OQO (pronounced “oh-q-oh”) shipping in April with a 1GHz Crusoe running Microsoft Windows XP.

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