Transmeta to Play ‘Astro’ Chips on New Turf

Low-power chipmaker Transmeta is wading into some pretty competitive seas with its TM8000 – a new processor codenamed “Astro”.

The Santa Clara-based company has slowly been showing off its next-generation chip saying that the 1GHz, 0.13-micron process processor is being designed primarily for use in laptops with 12- and 14-inch displays. Transmeta says Astro – along with its new name – should start popping up in consumer units in the third quarter of this year.

To make the Astro, Transmeta again turned to its fab-less partner TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) . The chip has been sampling since the end of last year to which the company reports the feedback has been, “very encouraging.” The processor is currently in early silicon pre-production.

“In Astro, we’ve doubled the width of the issues so that it gives you double the amount of work per clock. We’re already seeing 30 to 40 percent improvement of application run times over TM5800,” Transmeta Director of Marketing Michael DeNeffe told

The chip is being produced as a 256-bit VLIW version with eight 32-bit instructions executed per clock. The Astro is expected to have the same kind of attributes as the Crusoe with its Code Morphing software. DeNeffe said the chip should also rival the Crusoe line in the area of power consumption.

The entry into larger display mobile PCs is a departure for Transmeta, which had primarily focused on the 10-inch and under sub-notebook space with its TM5800 Crusoe processors. Now the company will compete with the likes of Intel with its Pentium 4 Mobile and upcoming Centrino chips as well as AMD with its Althon XP mobile processors.

Transmeta said its decision to move into larger laptops was based more on its new mantra of creating new devices and computing that is very efficient in nature.

“The Astro will keep the same virtues as the Crusoe but in a larger form factor, because people are realizing that smaller is better for small travel,” DeNeffe said. “We are kind of working in reverse from the competition in that we worked on smaller chips first. We feel our success will be built around more efficient computing. If you do tuning on hardware, you have to go through many revisions of hardware.”

The company is also throwing its weight behind other forms including Tablet PCs and what it calls “Ultra Personal Computers” such as the palm-sized OQO shipping in April with a 1GHz Crusoe running Microsoft Windows XP.

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