By Dan Jones Silicon Valley start-up Transmeta Corp looks set to step out of the shadows at Comdex in November. However, mystery still shrouds the nature of the product or products that the San Mateo, California-based company is planning to introduce. Transmeta employs some of the most well-respected and colorful characters in the IT industry […]
By Dan Jones
Silicon Valley start-up Transmeta Corp looks set to step out of the shadows at Comdex in November. However, mystery still shrouds the nature of the product or products that the San Mateo, California-based company is planning to introduce. Transmeta employs some of the most well-respected and colorful characters in the IT industry – including geek culture hero, Linus Torvalds. Speculation has included that the company is working on technologies as diverse as a graphics accelerator and Linux-based software to speed up system chips. However, the most likely bet seems to be a very long instruction word (VLIW) processor that runs x86 and Windows-based applications up to three times as fast as current Intel Corp CPUs.
The company tipped its hand about its plans late last year when it filed several patents involving a combination of hardware and software that could convert x86 instructions into VLIW instructions. It is expected to target its chip designs at mobile devices, set-top boxes and internet appliances. The low power consumption and small size – reportedly a quarter of the area of current Intel processors – would make the CPUs ideal for mobile applications. Indeed, the Transmeta chip was supposedly the engine behind Amiga Inc’s all-singing, all-dancing multimedia hub, set-top and PC, until Gateway Inc unceremoniously ditched the Amiga hardware plans.
Meantime, Transmeta is not the only company working in the field of x86 to VLIW emulation. Russian company Elbrus International is preparing its own VLIW Merced killer – the E2K – for release with funding from Moscow government. Interestingly, Transmeta CEO Dave Ditzel worked with Elbrus for several years while he was at Sun Microsystems Inc, which itself is preparing a Java-compliant VLIW chip dubbed MAJC.
Naturally, Transmeta won’t talk about any of this, secrecy has been the company’s policy since its inception. The most vocal of its employees Torvalds was cornered in Helsinki, Finland yesterday but merely said that Transmeta may – or may not – announce something at Comdex. In one of his stock email replies to inquiries, he writes what could stand as the company’s credo: If this is Transmeta-related, I didn’t do it, nobody saw me do it, and you couldn’t prove a thing.