HP unveils low-cost Transmeta thin clients

TechXNY: HP is aiming for shrinking IT budgets with two new stripped-down, Transmeta-based machines

HP on Monday launched two thin-client computers running on processors from chipmaker Transmeta, adding to the Transmeta-powered product line at HP.

Transmeta competes with larger rivals such as Intel and AMD on low-powered processors, which are most often used to extend the battery life of laptop computers. HP uses Transmeta's chips in its thin-client line because it uses less power and doesn't require the bulky, noisy cooling apparatus usual in full-strength PCs.

The HP Compaq t5300 and t5500, running 533MHz and 733MHz TM5800 Crusoe processors, rely on a server to do most of the storage and processing, while the on-board processor handles complex applications and media files. The machines cost $349 and $379 (£223 and £242) respectively, priced below the t5700, which runs on a 1GHz TM5800 chip. They were introduced at this week's TechXNY event in New York City.

"The low thermal characteristics of the Transmeta Crusoe processor allow HP to design extremely small enclosures without the need for cooling fans, delivering a highly integrated and reliable solution," said Transmeta senior vice president of marketing Art Swift, in a statement.

Thin clients aren't quite ready to eclipse sales of traditional desktops, but sales have been increasing due to the ease with which the devices can be rolled out and maintained in large volumes. IDC estimates that the market is growing at a 22.8 percent compounded rate, predicting 1.86 million will be sold in 2004, up to 3.4 million units in 2007.

Transmeta's main line of business is in laptops, but it is also pursuing markets such as tablet PCs and servers. The company is hoping that its Efficeon chip, formerly code-named Astro, will provide a much-needed sales boost when it appears in products this year.

Efficeon will initially appear in mini-notebooks and tablet PCs; two relatively small markets where Transmeta chips are already found. But they will start being used in more standard-sized notebooks, those with 12- to 14-inch screens, by the first quarter of next year, Transmeta said.

If any company is in need of a product boost right now, it’s Transmeta. When it held its coming-out party in early 2000, the company promised that its Crusoe chips would tackle one of the major problems in notebook computing: short battery life caused by processor power consumption. The company struck deals with a number of Japanese and Taiwanese manufacturers in fairly rapid succession, and then held an initial public offering at the end of 2000.

Then reality hit. Intel began to pour more efforts into reducing power consumption, a push that culminated in the Centrino chips it released this past March. Although some analysts noted that Crusoe chips did consume less power, users said their overall performance could be clunky.

CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.