Transmeta dismisses Intel's FUD over Crusoe

Transmeta: Compatibility problems? What compatibility problems?
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Microprocessor newcomer Transmeta says suggestions by Intel that its Crusoe chip isn't fully compatible with Windows software are unfounded.

The comments follow remarks made by Intel at a recent briefing where it raised doubts about whether Crusoe, which emulates x86 compatibility in software, would provide users with the same level of software compatibility they would get with Intel's processors.

"Regarding Intel claiming that Transmeta is not compatible, we have no clue what they're talking about," Transmeta chief executive Dave Ditzel told ZDNet UK. "It makes no sense to us."

Intel emphasised that Crusoe does not currently emulate Streaming SIMD Extensions (SSE), which speed up some processes by integrating them directly into the processor. Intel also builds a power-conservation process into its mobile chips known as SpeedStep, a feature not included in Crusoe.

"You should check whether the Transmeta chip is 100 percent x86-compatible," said Don MacDonald, director of marketing for Intel's mobile platform group, at the time.

A senior Intel spokesman later downplayed the remarks, saying MacDonald was simply calling for the press to keep a close eye on compatibility issues. "The press need to get third-party products [using both Crusoe and Intel mobile processors] and make their own evaluations," the spokesman said.

Industry analysts say Intel is understandably on guard against new competitors entering its core business, and say the company is likely to continue its efforts to cast fear, uncertainty and doubt over Transmeta's processors. "Transmeta was listed in Intel's SEC filings as a potentially major competitor before anyone had even heard of them," noted analyst Robin Bloor.

As for the issues around SSE and SpeedStep, the features are also unsupported by AMD processors, which include their own extensions and power-management features. Analysts said the extensions included in SSE, which largely deal with graphics, are not currently vital for laptop users. But new extensions on the way, accelerating encryption and other tasks, could be more useful.

Crusoe's software emulation means it consumes far less power than comparable processors from Intel or AMD, a feature that should give laptops a far longer battery life. However, Crusoe is primarily aimed at portable and wireless devices such as Web pads.

As evidence the company is driving aggressively into the processor market, Transmeta this week appointed bankers to carry out a public offering -- despite the fact that neither products nor testing samples are yet available.

Will Knight contributed to this report.

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