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Transmeta Upgrades Hardware

Transmeta Mini-ITX Board Reviewed 128

NobodyButMe writes " has posted a link to a 'world-exclusive' IBASE MB860 review on This appears to be the first review of a Mini-ITX board built around Transmeta's efficeon technology. Transmeta has also approved this board to be the official reference platform for the TM8600 processor and if you take a look at the benchmark results in the review (page 4) then you'll understand why as VIA's EPIA-M10K board looks quite pale in comparison. The review also adresses issues such as power consumption, temperatures and thermal throttling - three very interesting points when looking at the Efficeon processors. If the MB860 weren't so expensive (~500$ or something as it's aimed at the 'industrial market') then this could easily beat the EPIA boards (IMHO)."
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Transmeta Mini-ITX Board Reviewed

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  • Mini-ITX variety (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jon Proesel ( 762574 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:43PM (#10626069) Homepage Journal
    Mini-box [] make some neato little ITX boxes which you could hook up to any number of storage solutions. Past that, I've had good success with Mini-ITX [] boards. I get the cases from Web-tronics [], as the MITX ones are very, very expensive -- they're meant to make your MITX look like a CD player, pretty much, and I can do more without having to worry about cosmetics. MiniBox (above) sells snap-in MITX power supplies ranging from 60w to 200w. For the extra cool factor, use a Xenarc [] display or use something 'headless', e.g., LCDProc and Crystalfontz []. (As I remember, the MiniBoxes come with their own little displays.)
    • But then again ... you could always go to Fry's.
    • I work part-time for an embedded hardware manufacturer, and I've had a really bad experience about Xenarc displays. We got two pieces of some ~6" displays for a project, one of them didn't light up at all and the other one was somewhat funny looking. Being hardware guys we disassembled them of course.

      The result: both of the displays had bent pins on chips and mauled PCB's. It seemed like someone had been intent on destroying the display internals with a screwdriver. In addition to that the working displa
  • The world-exclusive review is slashdotted before there are even any comments...

    They wouldn't be running it on one of these... /lame joke
  • Well, the embedded systems world could certainly make use of a product like this. That $500 won't last: as soon as they get their development costs back from the big boys that can afford the initial high price, they'll go after Via. At least, that's my prediction.
  • ...will it run Linux?

    (and don't give me that "of-course-it-will-you-idiot-linus-used-to-work-th ere-dept" bit either)
  • by Profane MuthaFucka ( 574406 ) <> on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:45PM (#10626087) Homepage Journal
    Transmeta's mini-ITX board might beat a VIA board in speed, but VIA still has price going for them. And speed isn't that important to VIA's strategy, since their CPUs are meant to be fast enough for most jobs, but not the fastest CPUs available. They concentrate on power consumption. If Transmeta can lower the board price to $175, they would really have something good.
    • by bhtooefr ( 649901 ) <bhtooefr@bhtooefr. o r g> on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:58PM (#10626209) Homepage Journal
      VIA's trying to be all-around. Cheap (so the masses can buy - actually, this is goal #1 - the division that makes their CPUs was started by a couple former Dell engineers who were ticked that Intel was charging so much for their 386), small (look at Nano-BGA - smallest x86 around), fast enough, and cool.

      Transmeta, on the other hand, is trying to be ice cold, and more importantly, low power. They're actually one of the physically LARGEST x86 solutions, and they're not cheap. Sure, they might be faster than VIA, but not by too much (I actually had a chance to read the article on Epiacenter several hours before the /.ing, but only glanced at it).
    • They concentrate on power consumption.

      I would disgree with you. They concentrate on two main selling points:

      Peripheral connectivity. Average EPIA board - 6 to 8 USBs at least 2 of which are high speed, At least 1 Firewire, usually 2 IDEs (V series being the only exemption), serials, IR, sound, LAN, video (other then VGA) out and IN, hardware assisted MPEG encode/decode. Very few other motherboards come even close. The ones that do are way off in terms of form factor, price and noise level.


  • by erikharrison ( 633719 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:45PM (#10626089)
    I always liked Transmeta. But multiple looks at their processors always seemed to show that while they were outclassing the Eden chips from Via in terms of performance, the power/heat to perf ratio always seemed to be targeting a market that I wasn't sure existed.

    ARM has the bottom end (watches) and in the x86 space Via controls the low and AMD and Intel battle it out for middle and high (laptops and desktops). Transmeta processoes only seem to win in the palmtop arena, and even then Via is a strong contender.

    Anyone here considering using Transmeta in a hobby or production box? And why them and not someone else?
    • Umm... no.

      ARM has PDAs and stuff like routers. VIA has set-tops primarily.

      Now, I don't know why VIA doesn't have a stronger presence in palmtops (except for Transmeta only needing a seventh of the power). The VIA CPU is a hell of a lot smaller, so there's more room for a battery, or a smaller palmtop.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I would like to use Transmeta chips in a hobbyist box for a fanless home server or MythTV box. However they just don't seem to be cost effective or widely available enough for that market. How many years did it take to see a Mini-ITX board? Those should have been released at competitive prices on day one.

  • Crunched (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:46PM (#10626098) Journal
    I can't get to the article, so for those that have read it...

    Do those M10K-paling numbers include AES-crypto? How about MPEG-2/4 encoding/decoding? The VIA boards have dedicated hardware for this stuff that offloads from the CPU and really ramps up nicely.

    Or are they comparing such useful measures as SPECmarks, GFlops, and other meaningless drivel?

    • AES-crypto?

      Not terribly important, since very little uses AES now. Sure, you can make SSH default to try AES first, but is the majority of your CPU time dedicated to SSH sessions? Even if it is, a lot of it is probably compression, not encryption.

      How about MPEG-2/4 encoding/decoding?

      WTF? Since when does VIA include hardware to do MPEG-4 encoding? Bah! Only thing I know about is MPEG-2 playback (not even MPEG-1) and you can get that with any cheap video-card these days.

      And BTW, hardware playback is

      • Re:Crunched (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        AES loopback encrypted filesystem, at faster speeds than even P4's can do. That's the only thing I can think of right now, but I'm not heavily into crypto, but AES is common enough there's bound to be other uses.
        The video stuff could be useful for watching DVDs without overloading the cpu? Well in any case there's not much room in mini-itx cases to put fat-ass video cards, so it's nice to have stuff like that on the mobo. Not to mention those fat-ass video cards suck mucho power and one of the things abo
      • On VIA EPIA boards, the hardware MPEG2 playback is vital if you want smooth playback at reasonable resolutions at least up to the M12000 (latest I've tested), and provide good quality output. If this machine is fast enough not to have problems with doing software decoding then great, but it the questions about what the benchmarks measured that the previous poster asked are still valid - CPU performance is far from everything on a system where a significant number of the customers are likely to put them in c
        • the hardware MPEG2 playback is vital if you want smooth playback at reasonable resolutions

          I agree. VIA processors are grossly underpowered.

          However, that doesn't make the hardware MPEG-2 playback a good thing. It doesn't do hardware MPEG-1 in any of the chipsets I've heard about. And as I said in my previous post, you can do any video filtering before the video is displayed, so it's still quite a lowsy compromise. You're much better off getting a system that doesn't choke on software MPEG-2 playback.

          • However, that doesn't make the hardware MPEG-2 playback a good thing. It doesn't do hardware MPEG-1 in any of the chipsets I've heard about. And as I said in my previous post, you can do any video filtering before the video is displayed, so it's still quite a lowsy compromise. You're much better off getting a system that doesn't choke on software MPEG-2 playback. I could easily find an old Intel processor that's more than fast enough for software MPEG-2, and as low power as VIA's EPIA processors.

            I'm sur

      • AES crypto: IPSec, loopback filesystems, PGP, etc.

        MPEG-4: Since the CN400 chipset ( i es/cn400/)

        These are mini-ITX boards we are talking about. You only get 1 PCI slot in these units and I wouldn't be interested in wasting it on a video card that accelerates DVDs or DiVX.

        As for testing a "general purpose CPU", I'm NOT that interested. This is a mini-ITX PLATFORM, not a CPU. The CPU is only one component and things like the onboard graphics, 3D acce
        • You only get 1 PCI slot in these units and I wouldn't be interested in wasting it on a video card that accelerates DVDs or DiVX.

          No, but I already mentioned the limitations of hardware video playback. Besides, anything other than a VIA processor would have no problem decoding MPEG1/2/4 on the processor, and not NEED hardware acceleration.

          As for testing a "general purpose CPU", I'm NOT that interested.

          Then don't look at the benchmarks. Just about everyone on the planet besides you DOES care how lon

  • Is Transmeta the new AMD in terms of innovation and catering the real consumer needs?

    I wonder if/when Transmeta's price has come down to $100-$200 mark, will it start to attract more users?
    • ``Is Transmeta the new AMD in terms of innovation and catering the real consumer needs?''

      err, well. What are the ``real consumer needs''?

      If you mean ``what consumers want'', then TM is definitely not it. Consumers want higher, bigger, larger, and the Efficeon doesn't give them that with it's 1 GHz - which doesn't even go as fast as an 1 GHz Athlon, as the x86 crap^H^H^Hode is emulated.

      If you mean ``what geeks want'', then the Efficeon might go somewhere. There's certainly interesting technology in there,
      • Transmeta doesn't give geeks what they want (well, what I want) either. They design some really neat VLIW silicon, and then hide it behind a really hideous code-morphed instruction set (x86). If you could easily issue VLIW instructions directly, or they produced code morphing software for a nice RISC instruction set (e.g. PowerPC), then I might be interested.
  • by Sheetrock ( 152993 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:47PM (#10626109) Homepage Journal
    I've been working on a three week RMA where I had to hunt for contacts for an hour, spend a couple of hours filling out a support request only to get a form letter back, make three toll calls before reaching someone because the office hours were wrong on the contact page as well as their phone menu system, make another after a half-hour on hold to get the RMA, pay freight one-way then wait a couple of weeks for a board that may or may not work.

    Better to pay twice as much to get something that works right in the first place than to go through the above (where you'll be buying a second board to use during the RMA anyway). Even if you had to run GNU/Linux on it, you'd still be ahead of the game for office applications.

  • Ok...that site went down solidly. They must have been doing something seriously wrong.

    Anyone have a link or some text?
    • Yeah, here's the text:


      error in sql-statement: mysql_connect, err-no: 2002
      description: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (111)

      Warning: mysql_select_db(): Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (111) in /srv/www/htdocs/web0/html/epiacenter/includes/sql _ layer.php on line 89

      Warning: mysql_select_db(): A link to the server could not be established in /srv/www/htdocs/web0/html/epiacenter/includes/sql_ layer.php on line
  • Cheap EPIA boards? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TeckWrek ( 220789 )
    Does someone know where to buy Via EPIA boards for cheap? I've read that they are available in volume for $45 for the new M10000, but I can't find any $160 retail.

    What gives?
    • I meant any less than $160 retail.
    • [] has a couple of epia mini-itx boards $100.
    • If you're looking for low volume (2 - 10 units), you're going to end up paying close to retail. That's just how it works.

      For medium volume (25+ units) talk to the guys at [] ... They've been really helpful to me in the past.

      For larger volumes (100+) talk directly with VIA, they have always been extremely helpful in working with the little guys (in my experience), and if you're actually building a product, or developing something nifty with their boards you can generally get direct
  • Some of the specs (Score:3, Informative)

    by RealAlaskan ( 576404 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:50PM (#10626132) Homepage Journal
    Well, it's slashdotted. Just for once, I was actually going to RTFA. Google doesn't seem to have the article in its cache, either. Oh, well.

    Here is the MB860 []. Since they're using the Transmeta chip, power consumption must be a big deal. Here's the spec. for that:

    Maximum Power Consumption

    (MB860-1.0GHz in 3Dmark2001)
    +3.3V : 3.03A
    +5V : 3.09A
    +12V : 0.35A)
  • Question.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by XST1 ( 824817 )
    If the MB860 weren't so expensive (~500$ or something as it's aimed at the 'industrial market')

    Maybe im wrong but don't industrial type market businesses usually purchase big powerful industrial type computers to process their work?

    What exactly are industrial businesses doing with these boards?

    I can only see this item being sold on the consumer market.

    • point of sale systems, ATMs, maybe high end auto pc stuff?
    • Embed them into some gizmo that shouldn't take to much power because of what ever reason limits the possible energy consumtion. Imagine complex controler boxes for engines in explosive environments, where you don't want too much heat from the controler, because it could blast off the stuff you want to control.
    • You don't know what industrial means, do you?

      Industrial = embedded, and harsh (extremely hot, dusty, extremely cold, wet, etc., etc.)
    • Industrial means all kinds of control systems and factory automation, as well as robotics and vehicle systems. These are made in large (not consumer large, but still large) quantities. Basically you want as much processing power as possible (because it is much cheaper to be able to use, say, Java than have to code assembler) while minimising power requirements. In the 80s when X86 meant the 8086, 8088 (dog) and 80286, NEC brought out the very nice V40 chip which was a low power CMOS X86 with some onboard pe
  • by XST1 ( 824817 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @06:57PM (#10626201)
    I grabbed the last page before it got slashdotted if anyone wants a basic summary of what the review said:

    The MB860 initially attracted me because it was the first Mini-ITX board to be based around the Transmeta Efficeon technology. Given that Transmeta's track record with performance isn't the best I was very much looking forward to testing the MB860. Now that I have worked with it for several weeks I can say the following: "I like it, but..."

    One of the strong selling points is certainly that this board is fanless while offering good performance at very low-power consumption levels. It is quite impressive to see that the difference in total power consumption between idle (at ~18w) and full load (~30w) is very low. It's even more impressive if you realize that the CPU itself is only using a maximum of ~2w when playing a DVD. At the same time the temperature remains at an acceptable level while you are always sure that the system won't be damaged thanks to the thermal throttling. I think that the MB860 could be a great choice for CarPCs as these systems are especially sensitive as far as power consumption and heat are concerned.

    Attention to details such as the 44-pin IDE header and the included 44-pin cable are nice touches. There are however also a couple of annoyances such as the non-standard power-LED pins and the location of the ATX connector. While the second point varies depending on what case and power supply is used I'd personally prefer to use existing components such as the handy plug-in PSUs from iTuner. The I/O area of the board could also use 2 (4 would be even better) additional USB2.0 ports. Additionally I'd love to see an S-Video connector as many people prefer this option. For the future a DVI instead of the slowly aging VGA connector would also be appreciated. Especially since the ATI M7 core seems to be quite capable of producing high quality output signals.

    Software wise I can only complain about the M7 driver issue I'm having but as I said above that might be due to the fact that my sample is one of the first pre-production boards. In case I can come up with a solution I will update this article accordingly. As I didn't experience a single crash during my endless hours of testing and working on this system I'm lead to believe that the other drivers for the MB860 are very stable.
    One more thing which I'd like to see is a detailed documentation of the Observer tool and a better user-interface plus more option for this handy application.

    Here's a point which I haven't mentioned so far. Price. According to Transmeta the board is said to retail at around $450 but from I'm hearing from IBASE the retail price is likely to be higher. IBASE has made it clear that the MB860 is mainly aimed at the industry/industrial markets and this price-tag will certainly keep most regular consumers from considering this board. This is quite a pity in my opinion since the MB860 offers many features that consumers would also appreciate.

    In the end of each review the question always is: Is this product worth its money and should you consider spending your hard-earned cash on this product?
    For the regular reader here this will basically turn into the question whether a VIA EPIA board or the IBASE MB860 is the better choice for their system. Both boards have their strengths and weaknesses but I believe that there the EPIA boards offer two important advantages. Price being one of them as you can basically build a complete system for the price of the MB860. On the other hand the EPIAs have the advantage of being on the market for some time. Therefore you'll find more products (both hardware and software) and general support for this platform. This is certainly another point to consider.
    For the industrial market the MB860 certainly offers some compelling reasons to be purchased instead of an EPIA board. First of all industrial products normally have a higher reliability than consumer products. Given my own experience and hearing from other people I'd also suggest that the
  • Nano-itx (Score:2, Funny)

    I wan a Nano-ITX board myself... not quite out yet. -b.jpg []

    No, just kidding. Here's the real Nano-ITX: []
  • by Kinetic ( 3472 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @07:08PM (#10626286) Homepage
    Mirrors, including all the pictures, are at MirrorDot []. Enjoy.
  • by Thai-Pan ( 414112 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @07:11PM (#10626314) Journal
    Is it just me, or does Transmeta seem to be completely dropping the ball when it comes to catering their product to their own key demographic?

    It's essentially built like a normal computer motherboard, but who in their right mind is using a low power embedded solution like this for a desktop? Really, people are using Transmeta's projects for places where low power consumption and small size are key. Like home theatre PCs, car PCs, and so forth.

    Transmeta needs to get smart and produce products directly targeted at these embedded solutions; not vague products which could possibly be contributed towards them. If you want to build a home theatre PC, you need to hunt around for the motherboard, CPU, etc. from a normal computer, plus the chore of getting together a remote control system, small quiet power supply, suitable case that doesn't look like a budget computer from 1996, a fancy home audio sound card, etc.. If you want a car PC, you're going to be hunting for some very specialized input devices, screens, power supplies, etc. Why isn't anybody producing proper kits for these uses?
    • Who in their right mind? People who use their desktop to IM, web, email, word processing, etc. Light basic work. About everyone in most any office. Low power and quiet opperation makes it perfect for this type of task.

      Desktop does not only mean super fast 3d gaming system.
    • It's essentially built like a normal computer motherboard, but who in their right mind is using a low power embedded solution like this for a desktop?

      I went with a VIA EPIA for my desktop/server. After a few years of having a damn vacum cleaner next to my desk, it was an excellent choice. (Actually, with plenty of ram and xfce, it's quite a bit snappier than many of the WinXP boxes I use.)
    • Why isn't anybody producing proper kits for these uses?

      Because nobody else is... It's corporate group-think at it's worst.
    • Huh? As a person with one mini-ITX PC [] already, I'd have to say that Transmeta are hitting a major part of their market spot on with this release. Not only will a significant number of people already considering, say, a small media PC try a Transmeta board, but the more innovative hobbyist projects should drive a very successful grassroots advertising campain.

      Now, if I could only get the page to load...
    • It's essentially built like a normal computer motherboard, but who in their right mind is using a low power embedded solution like this for a desktop?

      I believe this is a meme whose time has not yet come.

      Consider a modest homenetwork with a games PC, a mailserver/webserver and a firewall. With the exception of the games PC the other systems have to be on 24/7 to be really useful. Run a PC with a 300 watts PSU for one year and it costs you here, in the Netherlands, approx. 150 euros. I would want to chang

  • slashdot effect in action.... anyone know the mirror for
  • by ventivent ( 416035 ) on Monday October 25, 2004 @08:30PM (#10626970)
    Here's an interesting article on Van's Hardware about the Efficeon's thermal throttling properties. Apparently it's even slower than you think. 7_efficeonFreeze/040517_efficeonFreeze.htm []
    • That is a very interesting report. If true, and it looks to be, then it makes the Transmeta CPUs something to avoid, particularly if you're into fanless computing.
    • They ran tests under a variety of thermal shutdown conditions. They even ran Van's test program. They never got the weird on/off/on/off routine he saw. Instead the system hit a maximum perormance and stabilized at 70C/158F. The only possible way I can think of they could have tested the board harder would be to hit it with a blow dryer or heat gun to bounce the ambient temperatures higher than the 24C/75F the testers had.

      Since that has the possibility of "testing to destruction" it's not a nice thing to
  • stats [] and here [] and here []

    Looks like they want "62,800"yen or about $550 for it... think I'll hold off for a bit. :)
  • Industrial market? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xtal ( 49134 ) on Tuesday October 26, 2004 @01:27AM (#10628636)
    Industrial market is already well served by ARM (Xscale et al.), PPC, Pentium M, Geode, VIA, and many others. All are well supported, fast, and low power.

    We looked at transmeta as a platform in-house for a product, but there don't seem to be enough (any?) advantages to the product to justify the additional cost or technical risk over a more traditional and proven processor line.

    I'm not sure what transmeta's strategy is go-forward, but they need to come up with something. Seen many transmeta powered PDAs out there? Cell phones?
  • error in sql-statement: mysql_connect, err-no: 2002
    description: Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/var/lib/mysql/mysql.sock' (111)
  • Its not fair to compare the Transmeta with the VIA M10000 boards (as an example). I'd hope the Transmeta uses better electronic components than VIA does. Our company has a number of M10000 boards. All of them have roasted capacitors in them (5 or 6 caps per). GSC caps. Cheap junk. This isn't a troll, its a (rather sad) fact.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"