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Transmeta

From Academic Kids

Transmeta Template:Nasdaq was founded in 1995 by Dave Ditzel as a US-based corporation that designed VLIW code morphing microprocessors. To date, it has produced two x86 compatible CPU architectures: the Crusoe and Efficeon processors. These CPUs have appeared in ultra-portable Laptops, Blade servers, Tablet PCs, and even a silent desktop, where the low power consumption and heat dissipation offer best advantage. On June 3, 2005 Transmeta announced their intention to go out of business, having recently sold their chipmaking business to a Hong Kong company not known for the microprocessor business.

Contents

History

Transmeta marketed their micro-processor technology as extraordinarily innovative and revolutionary in the low-power market segment. They had hoped to be both power and performance leaders in the x86 space. However initial reviews of the Crusoe indicated the performance fell significantly short of projections [1] (http://www.vanshardware.com/articles/2003/07/030715_Transmeta/030715_Transmeta.htm) Furthermore, the market did not stand still during Crusoe development -- Intel and AMD had significantly ramped up speeds and began to address increasing concerns about power consumption -- and so the initial offering, Crusoe, was rapidly cornered into a low-volume, small form factor (SFF), low-power segment of the market.

This forced a rapid re-design of the technology, marketed as the Efficeon processor. The Efficeon claimed to have twice the performance of the original Crusoe CPU at the same frequency. However, the performance was still weak relative to the competition, and the complexity of the chip had increased significantly. This increased size and power consumption may have diluted a key market advantage Transmeta's chips had previously enjoyed over the competition.

Transmeta has employed a number of industry luminaries such as Linus Torvalds and Dave Taylor. Initially, its purpose was kept secret, but partially because it had such talent amongst its staff, the industry was constantly abuzz with rumors in addition to 'conspiracy theories' resulting in excellent press relations (PR).

Linus Torvalds left Transmeta in June 2003 to dedicate himself to the further development of the Linux kernel. The most valuable asset held by Transmeta at the present time is their patent portfolio, and rumors persist that the company might be bought by a larger player such as AMD or even Microsoft for this reason.

As of January 2005 the company announced a strategic restructuring away from being a chip product company to a intellectual property company. That is, instead of selling chips the company will now sell technology for use by other chip makers. In February 2005, there was wild speculation that AMD might buy out Transmeta. In March 2005 the company announced that it was laying off 68 people, leaving 208 employees. About half of the remaining employees were to work on propagating the LongRun2 power optimization technology within Sony products. Sony was reported to be a key licensee of this Transmeta technology.

On May 31, 2005, Transmeta announced the signing of asset purchase and license agreements with Hong Kong's Culture.com Technology Limited (Culturecom; 文化傳信) led by Chu Bong-Foo, the inventor of the Cangjie method and one of the founding fathers of modern Chinese computing. This transaction is subject to the technology export license from the U.S. Department of Commerce and some other required agreements.

Transmeta has agreed to sell its Crusoe product line to Culturecom. Culturecom will also license Transmeta's Efficeon to make and sell its products in China.

"This engagement helps deliver Transmeta processor technology to the rapidly growing Chinese computing market through Culturecom, an established provider of Chinese-language technology solutions," said Arthur L. Swift, president and chief executive officer of Transmeta.[2] (http://investor.transmeta.com/ReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=164752)

Technology

The actual TM processors are in-order VLIW cores. To execute x86 code, a pure software-based instruction translator dynamically compiles or emulates x86 code sequences, using execution-hotspot guided heuristics. While similar technologies existed (WABI for Sun, FX!32 for Alpha) in the early 90s, the TM approach has set a much higher bar for compatibility—able to execute all x86 instructions from initial boot up to the latest multimedia instructions—while retaining most of its core performance.

Transmeta claims several technical benefits to this approach:

  1. As the market leaders Intel and/or AMD would extend the core x86 instruction set, Transmeta could quickly upgrade their product with a software upgrade rather than requiring a respin of their hardware.
  2. Performance and power can be tuned in software to meet market needs
  3. It would be a relatively simple matter to fix hardware design or manufacturing flaws in the hardware using software workarounds.
  4. More time could be spent concentrating on enhancing the capabilities of the core or reducing its power consumption without worrying about 16 years of backward compatibility to the x86 architecture.
  5. The processor could emulate multiple other architectures, possibly even at the same time. (At its initial Crusoe launch, Transmeta demonstrated pico-Java and x86 running intermixed on the native hardware.)

Prior to Crusoe release, rumors indicated Transmeta was relying on these benefits to develop a hybrid PowerPC and x86 processor. However, Transmeta would initially concentrate solely on the extremely low-power x86 market.

Viability

Transmeta lost much credibility and endured significant criticism due to the poor initial Crusoe showing with large discrepancies between projections and actuals for both performance and power. On one hand, the power numbers showed a reasonable improvement over the Intel and AMD offerings. However the end user experience (i.e. battery life) only showed a marginal overall improvement. [3] (http://www20.tomshardware.com/mobile/20010215/index.html) First, the Code Morphing Software (CMS) combined with cache architecture artificially inflated comparisons between benchmarks and real-world applications. This is due to the repetitive nature of benchmarks and their small footprints. The CMS software overhead may have actually been a key _cause_ of much lower performance for many real-world applications; the simple VLIW core architecture could not compete on computationally-intensive applications; and the southbridge interface was limited by its low bandwidth for graphics or other I/O-intensive applications. Some standard benchmarks even failed to run, questioning its claim of full x86 compatibility. [4] (http://www.vanshardware.com/articles/2003/07/030715_Transmeta/030715_Transmeta.htm)

The Efficeon addressed many of the Crusoe shortcomings and showed roughly a 1-2x real-world improvement over Crusoe. However there were costs. The 0.13 um die size of the Efficeon exceeded that of the Intel P4 Prescott, and the performance still significantly lagged Intel's Pentium M (Banias) and AMD's Mobile Athlon XP. [5] (http://www.vanshardware.com/reviews/2004/04/040405_efficeon/040405_efficeon.htm) The company has since shipped a 90nm shrink of Efficeon 2 clocked at up to 1.6GHz, however volumes are small and benchmarks are not available on platforms integrating these at this time.

See also

External links

fr:Transmeta hu:Transmeta Corporation nl:Transmeta pl:Transmeta Corporation sk:Transmeta

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