AMD’s Low Power Play

Transmeta, the once high-flying chip company that pitched more energy-efficient x86 processors years before Intel or AMD, is back in the game.

In a surprise announcement today, AMD said it plans to buy Transmeta’s Efficeon processor for use in desktop computers intended for emerging markets. Under terms of the exclusive deal, the 1.1 GHz Transmeta processor will be renamed the AMD Efficeon and used in desktop PCs running Windows XP.

These systems, desktops and eventually other form factors, will run under Microsoft’s FlexGo, a pay-as-you-go system for continued access to the computer after an initial low down payment.

AMD has an initiative it calls 50 x 15 that promotes getting 50 percent of the world’s population connected to the Internet by 2015, and the Efficeon with FlexGo will be the technology used in that program.

Transmeta has licensed its technology and been involved in other projects since its well-publicized failure to compete broadly in the chip market for mobile systems with its promising Crusoe processor. The Santa Clara, Calif. company has been working with Microsoft for almost two years on the FlexGo technology.

“We were involved with FlexGo from the beginning,” Art Swift, president and CEO of Transmeta, told

“Our microprocessors use what we call code morphing software, which lets us implement in software what others have to do in hardware. We can bring in new technologies faster than anyone else trying to do it in hardware. Microsoft gained 18 months time to market for FlexGo.”

Neither AMD or Transmeta would provide many details on their alliance, other than to say it’s a multiyear deal. Intel has said it also plans to support FlexGo in its own processors for emerging markets.

“Transmeta has great technology, this deal gets us out there first,” Billy Edwards, AMD’s chief innovation officer, told “The product exists today in systems in trial in Brazil and you’ll see them becoming more widely available over the next few months.”

Edwards said AMD plans to add FlexGo technology to its own microprocessors, but decided to work with Transmeta to get experience in the market more quickly. Swift said he expects AMD to bring out FlexGo systems, but that doesn’t mean Transmeta won’t remain part of the mix.

“We have a special, low-power niche, our first solution is less than 15 watts,” said Swift. “We think there’s a natural distinction from AMD’s chips which operate at a higher power level.”

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