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Transmeta Businesses Hardware

Transmeta Mulls Exit From Processor Market 202

Posted by timothy
from the they've-already-made-it-up-in-volume dept.
chill writes "C-Net is reporting that CPU upstart Transmeta, once the employer of Linus Torvalds and maker of 'Code Morphing' processors, is contemplating leaving the chip manufacturing business. Already their IP licensing revenue exceeds that of their microprocessor sales, though both are dwarfed by their recurring quarterly losses."
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Transmeta Mulls Exit From Processor Market

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  • by OtLa (844129) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:14PM (#11264656)
    "...Transmeta is reporting a further reduction in power requirements by 44% and sees the laptop and sub-laptop markert as the primary markets for their new CPU. Intel and AMD claim to be catching up with the Transmeta chips in terms of power requirements..." Yup, that worked out well.
  • by cheezemonkhai (638797) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:15PM (#11264672) Homepage
    When I was researching building myself a little mini-itx box for playing dvd's and doing PVR I considered transmeta and via CPUs and boards.

    The via sort of has reasonable support in linux, however the transmeta seems not to be very open about giving drivers etc away.

    In the end I gave up and just used a long lead from the already present old server (Was doing firewall 7 routing etc) to the TV.

    The idea of a cool & quiet little PC to do that was great, but unless you get prices less than an pc with a quieting kit and good support under linux (and windows) then it's not going to work.

    To beat the incumbant you have to out perform and ouotprice it. Transmeta's problem is that AMD was already giving this a good go and people just don't want to use the unproven.
  • So Long, Transmeta. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:20PM (#11264721)
    Tis' a shame that Transmeta had to get out of the chip making business. However, it appears that their presence was not in vain.

    From the article: The company emerged in 2000 with a promise to bring energy-efficient processors to notebooks. The company's low-energy push spurred Intel to cut the energy consumption in its own chips.The company emerged in 2000 with a promise to bring energy-efficient processors to notebooks.

    At least they had a long-lasting impact on Chipzilla. I never had to buy any Transmeta-powered products, but I know others who did. One tongue-in-cheek reason was to "root for the underdog."

    The only hope now is that they don't get vilified for focusing more on the revenue-generating but much maligned IP territory.
  • by Will Fisher (731585) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:25PM (#11264766)
    Its a shame. I (heart) my transmeta based notebook [pcplus.co.uk], (i got it for £500 3 months ago) its so tiny. I may not be able to play back video very well, but its under a kilogram and incredibly small. Perfect for webbrowsing and email on the move :(

    Who will make processors for these kind of notebooks now?
  • pathetic.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by torpor (458) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:27PM (#11264781) Homepage Journal
    .. they haven't even tried.

    it seems to me that transmeta should get -serious- about what the real issue with sillicon-business is: getting the product *used*.

    as a more-than-casual observer of the sillicon markets, but being consequently, admittedly, ignorant of transmeta's "consumer" stance, i can't help but feel that transmeta are still in the 'precocious spoiled brat', rather than 'serious competitive contender against golliath', stage of 'tech biz' development ..

    obviously, what they needed to do was conqure small-run manufacturing, and get the 'last-gap' hardware issues solved, while fostering their development cults. they didn't do this, instead just forever 'being defeated in the Desktop war'.

    we -need- more bold new CPU and silicon vendors, people. if only a handful of people in the world can print and manufacture silicon, that's sad..

    if, after their cut-up, whatevers left of Transmetas' engineering team get enough of a reboot, maybe we'll see them focusing on chips for devices, rather than chips for general-purpose computing (in weird ways).

    as a developer, if i could have 10,000 transmeta cpu's, all in good low-power/high-performance ratio, on 10,000 motherboards, with 10,000 power-supplies and invoices for 10,000 cases/assembly, i would write some bad-ass software, which would put those 10k cpu's to *use*. (i like to think i do this for a living..)

    but i never got the sense that transmeta gave a rats about *actual* devices, preferring to over-general-purpose-ize their engineering efforts, so that everything was *expensive*.

    (10k worth of 8051's, some batteries and leds==90's::10k ARM/PPC/TM-core ass'lies, some batteries, LCD, and a radio==2000's)

    in sum: transmeta didn't think small enough.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:28PM (#11264793) Homepage Journal
    Virtually every field nowadays seems to be ruthlessly dominated by one or two (if you're lucky, three) titanic competitors. Trying to break into an existing market is tantamount to financial suicide. Not because newcomers have bad ideas or make bad products-- but because the "mindshare" of the unwashed masses is so stuck on the existing titans..

    You overlook a once tried-and-true strategy, which doesn't seem to have happened in this case:

    Devise some clever new bit of technology

    Burn venture capital (or even your own money if you're confident) waving it under the big noses in the industry.

    Sell out

    Logically you'd expect Intel, IBM or AMD to snatch them up as some sort of IP asset or leverage against a competitor, but Intel's scrambling against AMD, which hasn't exactly had lots of money to burn on other fronts, which left IBM who probably will pick up the ashes, unless Microsoft does and uses it for their Windows Processor ...

    (Please note, I did not include

    ...
    and

    Profit!!!
    above. Thanks.)

  • by gelfling (6534) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:31PM (#11264823) Homepage Journal
    Transmeta came to the fore with a promise that sounded almost as dramatic as the Scientific Revolution. The problem with that is, you have to be right.

    Too bad really, because it's just one more indicator that the era of significant investment in new technology is looping ever shorter. The day when a company would invest in Xerox machine development for 20 years like Halloid did is I think, gone. Now you have to show a tiny incremental improvement right away and the hell with quantum leaps.

    And large oligopolies are in the best position to do that. Show minimal improvement with maximal crash and burn to upstarts. Didn't the Transmeta guys learn anything from Bill Gates??
  • by HeghmoH (13204) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:43PM (#11264930) Homepage Journal
    Your markets are totally stuffed. It's not "burgers", it's "fast food", and there are zillions of viable competitors, from Taco Bell on down to the local burrito place.

    Likewise, the market isn't "cola", it's "non-alcoholic drinks", which has tons of competition.

    Sneakers might be the right market, but there seemed to be plenty of competition last time I was in a shoe store.

    For OSes you are right on the mark, of course.

    Again, "x86 computers" is the wrong market, the right market is "desktop computers". In any case, Dell and Compaq combined own significantly less than half the market.

    The market is right for "graphics cards", but I don't think the companies are right. ATI and nVidia have cornered the high-performance end of things, but there still seem to be others on the low end. I might be wrong here.

    The only fields dominated by one or two competitors are either those which are a natural monopoly (OSes on your list) or those where you have to squint very, very hard for your argument to look correct.
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @01:55PM (#11265056) Homepage
    "Code morphing", which is a form of emulation, was interesting, but not all that promising as a way to emulate one well-understood CPU architecture. AMD does some code modification when instructions are loaded into the instruction cache; they expand all the instructions up to a fixed size, like a RISC machine.

    "Code morphing" would have been more useful if the instruction set to be emulated was less well matched to a hardware implementation. The VAX instruction set comes to mind. That instruction set was hard to make run fast. Individual instructions had too many sequential steps. DEC struggled with that for years. But few need a fast VAX any more.

    The only reason that Transmeta had any success at all was that they built a chip with good on-chip subsystem-level power management. That's something which Intel and AMD had previously not considered too important, having focused on desktops first and laptops second. But it's not hard to do, and Intel then started doing it.

  • by sjbe (173966) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:03PM (#11265164)
    but because the "mindshare" of the unwashed masses is so stuck on the existing titans..

    Not disagreeing with you as branding is amazingly powerful, but there is more to it than that. Those big companies also have a lot of other advantages besides brand. They have among other things:
    • Extensive distribution channels which are VERY expensive to replicate
    • Knowledge of the market and competitive environment as well as infrastructure to use this information
    • Economies of scale due to their large production volume permitting leverage with supppliers and/or the ability to sell at a lower cost (think Walmart) or for higher margins (think Coke or Intel)
    • Relationships with government regulators the new guys lack
    • Existing revenues to support product development
    • Production/operations experience and debugged processes
    • Existing and sometimes captive supplier relationships
    • Extensive patent and other IP portfolios

    And a lot more. It's very difficult to attack a market leader directly. They simply have too many advantages (in addition to brand) to have a realistic chance of success.

    I've always thought Transmeta's strategy was a bit questionable because they are attacking Intel/AMD on their strength. Sure, Transmeta's processors don't use much power but so what? The processor wasn't the biggest power drain in most devices that would use it. (the display screens usually chew up the most power) And Intel quickly released low(er) power versions of their existing processors which at least narrowed the gap. Plus a processor by itself is useless; it needs a board to plug it into and that creates an installed base problem. Dell doesn't want Transmeta processors because it increases production complexity and adds cost.

    Transmeta's real product advantage (IMO) lay in their instruction morphing technology, not low power. It creates another abstraction layer making it easier for board manufacturers to customize products for companies like HP or IBM. This would allow firms that use several different platforms to potentially reduce costs by producing one processor and then tweaking the instruction set. Faster time to market and reduced cost. There are performance issues of course but I think these could have been managed if they didn't focus so heavily on the low power market.
  • by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:09PM (#11265241) Homepage Journal
    Inmos also died a death. Cyrix was bought out. Dunno what happened to IIT. Motorola quit CPUs. It's rarely been because the ideas were bad (well, other than the MediaGX), but because the ideas exceeded either their ability to produce, or their management's willingness to take risks.


    Transmeta's code morphing was never exploited. They had several former SGI chip specialists, but made no real progress on the graphics front. They had Linus Torvalds on board, but didn't invest enough to make their initial Linux offering stable. Only a few manufacturers were allowed to sell Transmeta products - it was next to impossible to buy the CPU itself. And their QC failed badly on the initial Crusoe chip which had numerous bugs.


    These weren't the fault of the engineers, or the design. These were political errors. Personally, I think Transmeta would do better to stay in the chip market and kick out their top managers. (Better still, sell the managers to SCO. May as well make some money out of it.)


    Transmeta's main legacy, to date, has been to force Intel and AMD to cut back on their global warming efforts. Chips are much more efficient, especially on mobile products. Revolutionizing the attitudes in the top 2 manufacturers is no mean feat. I think people should damn well be impressed by that.


    After the Crusoe was announced, IBM open-sourced their own code-morphing software (DAISY) but also did nothing with it. Another opportunity wasted.


    So, yes, I'm not best-pleased with this decision, but it may have been doomed from the start by the attitudes involved. Sad, but familiar. (Also, not unusual in projects funded by Paul Allen. I only hope Rutan can shake off the curse.)

  • Re:Transmeta Inside? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:28PM (#11265579)
    The fact that they couldn't successfully compete is no surprise, considering their competitors (AMD and Intel).

    However, that definitely doesn't mean that their products were worthless. Sadly, the barrier of entry to established markets is very high. If it were lower, we might see more innovation, better products and/or better pricing. The ability to compete is important for capitalism to work in favor of actual progress; currently, it looks more like capitalism encourages progress in marketing, brand-awareness etc. rather than progress on merits.
  • Re:Transmeta (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Simulant (528590) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:30PM (#11265626) Journal

    I agree. And I'm an ex-employee, assuming that counts for anything.

    They should have been GIVING away small form factor reference designs. They ones they did sell weren't all that great, geared mainly to laptop vendors... and way over priced.

    That said, people still drool over my small, Crusoe based, laptop; especially after they've watched the SECOND movie with out changing batteries. It's the only laptop I own which I never fear running out of juice on. With a couple of batteries, I can fly just about anywhere in the world with out having to recharge. If only it had a bit more cpu power....
  • by hung_himself (774451) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:56PM (#11266132)
    Low level specs are great but I have a real 1Ghz transmeta chip on a sub 2 pound Sharp notebook (OK 2.5 with big battery). It lasts 9 hours like it says (tested on a long flight) and runs more than fast enough with XP for Powerpoint, Word and not bad even with a pig like CorelDraw. The power cord accidentally got unplugged while it was connected to the network once and it still had half the battery left after nearly a week on intermittent sleep

    The price performance thing is pretty meaningless as long as it is fast enough to do what you need. Not everyone uses their laptop as a primary machine, or for video processing. My main need was something that didn't weigh like a lead brick and could let me do real work on a long flight or a meeting without having to plug in somewhere. The Sharp/Transmeta does that admirably.

    As for the Centrino - it may be great - I don't know but I wouldn't go by spec-sheet alone (Xeons are the fastest chip right?). I'm curious if anyone here has *real world* experience with the Centrino based Sony? My understanding is that it has about half the battery life of the Sharp from the user reviews and I certainly don't discount that this might be because of different power management schemes that don't relate to the chip. But as a end-user consumer the Sharp notebook was a lot cheaper than the Sony last I checked and is far from being a sub-par product.

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