VoiceButler adds new chord to Transmeta

In a move to establish itself in embedded devices, chipmaker Transmeta will power a telecommunications device from VoiceCom

Transmeta is expanding away from its core market in laptops with a deal to power a voice-recognition device for small businesses.

The chipmaker said on Wednesday that German firm VoiceCom will use Transmeta's Crusoe processor in the VoiceButler, which allows callers to access telephone extensions via voice prompts. Transmeta, which specialises in chips that don't use much power, has previously focused on ultra-light laptops with long battery life, but is attempting to expand into the huge market for embedded, or non-PC, devices.

While Transmeta launched a line of embedded processors earlier this year, the VoiceButler uses a chip that is also used in PCs -- an 800MHz Crusoe TM5800.

VoiceCom said it chose the processor because of its relatively low cost, but also because of reliability issues. Because the chip consumes relatively little power, it has a low operating temperature and does not need a fan cooling system, eliminating a common source of breakdowns.

The VoiceButler device, which was previewed at CeBIT last month, will go on sale for the German market in the second quarter. It is compatible with most German PBX systems, operates in all major languages and manages up to 20 users, the company said.

"The VoiceButler exemplifies the diversity of embedded opportunities which exist for Transmeta based on the exceptional balance of energy efficiency and performance of our processors," said Arthur L. Swift, Transmeta senior vice president of marketing, in a statement.

Another area of success for Transmeta outside the traditional PC market has been in tablet PCs -- devices that have PC capabilities but are portable and have touch screens. The UK's Viglen is using a 933MHz Crusoe TM5800 in its new eXaro tablet PC.

After a glamourous start, Transmeta has been trying to recover from a disastrous slide in 2001. The company's Crusoe 5800 chip was delayed several times that year, prompting Toshiba to cancel a Transmeta-based notebook for the US market. Revenue fell to below $2m (£1.3m) a quarter, forcing the company to replace chief executives and lay off employees.

Although Transmeta continues to lose money, it managed to get the 5800 out the door in 2002 and is currently working on a new chip, called the Astro, which will debut later this year. Revenue also has risen lately.

The embedded market differs substantially from the PC market. Embedded chips typically sell for less than their PC counterparts and companies often need fewer chips. On the plus side, there are far more potential customers.

The embedded Crusoe SE processors, launched in January, are similar to the company's notebook chips but will be incorporated into a wider variety of nontraditional devices, such as point-of-display terminals or in-car entertainment systems. The line runs at 667MHz to 933MHz, faster than most ARM chips, but consumes less power than competing Intel and AMD chips, thereby eliminating the need for internal cooling fans.

CNET News.com's Michael Kannellos and John G. Spooner contributed to this report.


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