Transmeta chases embedded device designs

Transmeta is making progress in securing design wins within embedded systems, but the company has a long way to go to win more...

Transmeta is making progress in securing design wins within embedded systems, but the company has a long way to go to win more attention from developers, analysts said.

Yesterday Transmeta announced that Plexus, a provider of electronic manufacturing services, chose Transmeta's high-performance and cost-effective TM5800 processor as a key component in embedded product design applications for it's original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers.

Transmeta's Crusoe processor was designed as a low-power notebook and mobile device processor. The company has not acquired as much market share in the US as it would have hoped, but is popular in Japan in notebooks by Fujitsu and Sony, among others.

The  company has turned to the embedded market in the hope of becoming profitable. Embedded devices are computers designed for a specific use, such as in mobile phones and personal digital assistants.

Plexus designs and builds specialised industrial equipment for vertical markets such as automotive manufacturing or healthcare. The announcement builds on earlier agreements with three embedded design companies in Europe to use Transmeta's Crusoe SE (special embedded) processors in their products.

However, embedded device specifications are often determined by software developers, who prefer FPGA (field-programmable gate array) chips to those based on fixed designs, said Jerry Krasner, vice president of market intelligence for Embedded Market Forecasters in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Embedded Market Forecasters regularly surveys embedded developers about the types of designs they are considering and using in their devices, and Transmeta's name does not come up very often, Krasner admitted.

Developers of industrial products can match FPGA processors to their software requirements, rather than having to build their software around the instruction set of the Crusoe processor. This will make it hard for Transmeta to convince developers to adopt their chip, he said.

But developers of other embedded devices such as thin clients find the Crusoe processor a welcome change from other slower embedded designs, said Bob O'Donnell, director, personal technology for IDC.

Hewlett-Packard recently announced a thin-client device with the Crusoe processor, and Transmeta was named a partner for Microsoft's Smart Display initiative, he said.

"The things that did not serve them well in the PC market are totally different here. They go from the bottom of the performance barrel in PCs to the top in the embedded market," he said.

Transmeta clearly must do something to remain relevant in the chip world and generate revenue. Its highest-profile employee, Linux creator Linus Torvalds, left Transmeta last week to accept a full-time position with the Open Source Development Lab.

Intel's Pentium M processor has drawn favourable reviews from analysts and hardware enthusiast sites for its combination of performance and low power. Intel executives have admitted that Transmeta's Crusoe was a wake-up call that led to the creation of the Pentium M.

Transmeta plans to launch its next-generation Crusoe chip, codenamed Astro, in the third quarter. Astro will compete with the Pentium M in terms of performance and power consumption, executives have said.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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