Transmeta's next-gen chip arrives in September

The chipmaker is pinning its hopes on the long-awaited Astro chip, which it says will beat Intel's Xscale and Pentium M for combining performance and low power.
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor
Transmeta is to launch its next-generation Astro chip in September, with the first products based on the low-power processor arriving before the end of the year, the company said last Thursday.

The chip is aimed at laptops with 12- and 14-inch screens, but may also be used in high-density blade servers, small-business servers and possibly portable Ultra Personal Computer products, the company has said. Transmeta said the chip would run 50 to 80 percent faster than its current chip. The Astro, or TM8000 processor, is expected to clock in at about 1GHz.

Transmeta had previously said the chip would be launched sometime after the first of July.

Transmeta also announced several new customer wins, including what it claims is the first Tablet PC priced under US$1,000. The V800XPT Tablet PC from TDV Vison, a Chinese consumer and manufacturing group, is to launch in September in Europe, the US and China for US$900.

The device is powered by an 800MHz Crusoe TM5800 chip, which will also be used in HP's Compaq Thin Client t5700. HP is also planning a pilot programme with the TM5800 in the Compaq Tablet PC TC1000.

Transmeta's TM8000 chip will feature an entirely new architecture, executives say, but it will also share some design ideas with AMD's upcoming Athlon64.

The TM8000, formerly known as the Astro, will feature an integrated Northbridge, a typically separate chip that connects the processor to memory, and it will connect to other components through HyperTransport, a high-speed chip-to-chip link. The Athlon64 will similarly come with an integrated memory controller and HyperTransport links.

Additionally, the TM8000 will sport an entirely new processing core -- the cerebrum of a computer's processor.

Integrating the Northbridge and adopting HyperTransport essentially cuts out the bottlenecks inside today's PCs. In current computers, the processor sends signals across a relatively slow bus, or data path, to the Northbridge, which in turn traverses another slow bus to retrieve data from memory before returning again. Integrating the memory controller gets rid of the first buses.

And HyperTransport runs at 400MHz, faster than similar connections used inside computers today.

Transmeta said the chip's performance will compare favourably with Intel's Xscale processor for handheld computers and its Pentium M for laptops. Transmeta's chips are x86 compatible but are designed to consume far less power than those of AMD or Intel. Thus far, however, their performance has not been high enough to tempt many mainstream PC makers.

The chipmaker lost US$22m in the second quarter, it announced on Thursday, and said its revenue had dropped by US$2.4m from the same quarter last year. The loss was nearly US$14m less than that of Q2 2002.

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

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