MPF - Transmeta unveils low-power processor

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA (10/15/2003) - Transmeta Corp. has unveiled its low-power Efficeon TM 8000 processor, a chip the company claims can rival Intel Corp.'s power-saving Pentium M CPUs. While announcing the Efficeon at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California, Tuesday, Transmeta also released benchmarks showing its chip outperforming Intel's lowest-power Pentium M.

"Efficeon is a major leap forward in performance for Transmeta," said Dave Ditzel, vice chairman and chief technology officer of Transmeta, at the introduction. He backed up his statement with a series of benchmarks showing the new 1100-MHz chip outperforming Intel's 900-MHz Pentium M.

Transmeta caused a stir when it launched Crusoe in 2000, and loudly announced its intentions to give Intel a run for its money.

The original Crusoe chips did save power, but underperformed the competition--often dramatically.

Transmeta is confident customers will be pleased with Efficeon's performance, and expects the chip will succeed in the thin-and-light notebook market, where Crusoe now resides. The company also sees the new CPU reaching into other product areas, Ditzel said. Transmeta expects vendors to use the new Efficeon processors in full-size notebooks, fan-less desktop systems, and blade servers.

The company plans to ship 1-GHz, 1.1-GHz, 1.2-GHz, and 1.3-GHz Efficeon chips based on its .13-micron process before the end of the year. It expects to ship chips based on a .09-micron process, running at up to 2 GHz, before the end of 2004. The company did not announce specific launch pricing, but indicted that Efficeon chips will sell in the US$100 range.

Brand-New Design

With Efficeon, Transmeta has effectively started over, creating a new, smaller silicon chip, as well as new software to support it, Ditzel said. New hardware features of the processor include a 1MB L2 cache, an integrated DDR400 memory interface, integrated HyperTransport interface, and a new AGP graphics interface.

Crusoe did not support AGP, which forced notebook vendors to use the much slower PCI bus. Support for AGP 4X means future Efficeon notebooks can use standard graphics processors, Ditzel said.

The new HyperTransport bus, developed in cooperation with AMD, offers 1.6GB-per-second throughput, he added.

Chief among the chip's new micro-architecture improvements is the capability to process eight instructions per clock cycle, up from four for the Crusoe and most standard processors, he said. That leads to twice the Instruction Level parallelism of existing chips.

To accommodate those eight 32-bit instructions, Transmeta also improved its code-morphing software, Ditzel said. This software makes Transmeta's chips compatible with other processors, allowing them to run any software that an Intel chip can process. Transmeta uses the code-morphing software because it enables the company to create a chip that requires fewer transistors, which means it needs less power.

As a result, Transmeta's 1100-MHz Efficeon uses just 7 watts, the same amount of power Intel's 900-MHz Pentium M requires, he said. And the Transmeta chip uses significantly less power than the Intel product when idle.

A New LongRun

Transmeta has also revamped its LongRun software, which dynamically alters the processor's voltage and speed to save power. The new version, LongRun2, won't ship with the new Efficeon chips, but should be available next year, Ditzel said.

The new software takes on a processor issue that other vendors have failed to tackle: power leakage. This is the power used, and lost, by a transistor even when it's not active.

"Leakage is a big problem, and so far there have been very few satisfactory answers," Ditzel said. "Leakage problems could be the limiter to Moore's Law if we don't find a solution." Moore's Law refers to an observation by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore that the number of transistors per inch on integrated circuits would double every year for the foreseeable future.

LongRun2 deals with transistor leakage by dynamically dropping the amount of power running through a transistor, effectively controlling leakage when the transistor is running and when it is idle.

While LongRun2 won't be available until later, all Efficeon chips have the necessary hardware to run the software, Ditzel said.