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NEC Taps Transmeta for the LongRun

NEC Electronics Thursday said it is making an equity investment into chipmaker Transmeta and tapping into its low-power technology.

The Japanese computer maker has licensed Transmeta's LongRun2 technologies for use throughout its 90-, 65- and 45-nanometer generation semiconductor products. NEC said it also purchased a small percentage of Transmeta's common stock, giving it some control in the direction the Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker turns in the future. Specific financial details were not available.

The strategic partnership allows Transmeta to continue its quest to out-power rivals like Intel and AMD , but it also gives San Jose, Calif.-based NEC a way to explore new form factors. The two companies held a press conference and ceremonial signing event today in Tokyo to commemorate the agreement.

"NEC Electronics has been promoting research and development of low power technologies such as parallel processing, multi gate-oxide film and multi threshold voltage, targeting the markets requiring power efficiency management," NEC Electronics executive vice president Hirokazu Hashimoto said in a statement. "By licensing Transmeta's LongRun2 technologies, we will be able to complement our existing low power technologies and lead the industry in markets such as wireless handsets, broadband networking and digital consumer electronics where low power is critically important."

LongRun is Transmeta's secret sauce that allows both its Crusoe and Efficeon processors to adjust MHz and voltage at hundreds of times per second to reduce power consumption. Current releases of Efficeon run at 7 watts. The technology now in its second-generation also addresses transistor leakage -- a growing problem in the semiconductor sector as the technology shrinks to smaller dimensions along the nanometer scale. The second generation Efficeon chips are due out in 2004 and are expected to run from 1.0GHz at 3 watts all the way up to a 2.0 GHz version that only takes 25 watts of power. A third-generation Efficeon is already being planned.

"Transmeta was able to address this issue first, and NEC's licensing validates that it is not only a viable approach to the problem but a marketable one," Enderle Group founder and lead analyst Rob Enderle told internetnews.com. "As a technology company, this validation, which can both come from licensing and the direct sale of chips that use the new technology, is necessary if Transmeta is going to continue in its current role. It also makes Transmeta an important part of NEC's future and that, along with Transmeta's growing relationship with HP, helps insure their future."

Enderle says it was Transmeta that woke Intel up, and the result was their ARM-based chip architecture initiatives: Pentium M and Centrino. Both chips are purpose-built for mobile devices and laptop computers. But power leakage problems have persisted in Intel's designs, which is one of the reasons Enderle says that Dothan, the next generation of Intel's Centrino platform, is not seeing any power efficiency gains.

"To remain a force in the market, Transmeta has to continue to lead in their chosen space -- full-featured portable computers," Enderle said. "Their architecture, which is more flexible than Intel's, can move more quickly. As long as they can demonstrate the values associated with these moves, they remain viable. In this way they are kind of like Apple is to Microsoft."

In addition to NEC, Transmeta's marquee relationship remains its partnership with HP , which uses the low-power chips to run its Compaq Evo Tablet PCs as well as thin clients. Transmeta also has other partners for its Efficeon chip including ROX for blade servers , and Sharp and Fujitsu for a new version of a thin and light notebook.