HP developing Crusoe-powered Evo Tablet PC

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) will release the Compaq Evo Tablet PC by the end of 2002, and the device will be powered by a 1GHz Crusoe chip from Transmeta Corp., the two companies announced June 3.

Tablet PCs are computers about the size of a pad of paper that allow information to be written directly on to the screen. The release of the Evo Tablet PC will coincide with the release of Microsoft Corp.’s Windows XP Tablet edition operating system later this year, which will run the device, said Ted Clark, vice-president of new notebook markets in the HP Personal Systems Group. Businesses with mobile salesforces will be targeted by HP, and the medical and legal communities are also potential customers, said Clark.

The speed of the Crusoe TM5800 will be increased for the Evo Tablet PC, from a previous maximum speed of 867MHz to the 1GHz chip HP will use, said David Ditzel, Transmeta’s vice-president of marketing and chief technology officer. Crusoe chips are known for their low power consumption, which allows for extended battery life on mobile computers.

“This is the right technology for the right customer segment,” said Clark. “The combination of high performance and long battery life will drive adoption by highly mobile customers.” This is HP’s first tablet PC, he said.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP hasn’t decided on a price yet, he said.

The announcement is part of Transmeta’s strategy to expand its business beyond Japan, where several PC makers have included Crusoe chips in their notebook PCs, said Matthew Perry, president and chief executive officer of Transmeta, based in Santa Clara, Calif. Perry declined to say whether Transmeta is negotiating with other U.S. hardware manufacturers, such as Dell Computer Corp., to place the TM5800 Crusoe chip in other tablet or mobile devices. “Our priority is this relationship with HP,” he said.

Transmeta is positioning itself as the leader in a market that Intel Corp., the world leader in desktop and server chip market, has missed, said Rob Enderle, research fellow at Giga Information Group Inc. An earlier version of the Crusoe chip, the TM3200, was the first to appear in a tablet computer launched last year by Frontpath Inc., a subsidiary of SonicBlue Inc., he said.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as HP or Dell are not happy with the rate of change in technology from Intel, leaving the door open for another chip company such as Transmeta to become the standard for this type of mobile device, he said. If Transmeta can demonstrate that the TM5800 is stable in tablet PCs, OEMs will buy it, even if Intel’s scheduled release of a similar chip later this year provides faster processing speeds, he said.

“Intel will have a high hill to climb if Transmeta can establish themselves early in the (U.S. tablet) market,” he said.

Tablet PCs from Fujitsu Ltd., Acer Inc., and Tatung Co. feature Intel’s Pentium III chip, available in low voltage or ultra-low voltage models, an Intel spokeswoman said Monday. Future products powered by Intel technology will contain either the Pentium III, or Intel’s forthcoming Banias chip, displayed for the first time at Computex in Taipei on June 3, she said.

Intel plans to increase its presence in the tablet PC market by the end of 2002, with several announcements of tablet PCs featuring Intel chips expected, she said. The company is discussing plans for Intel-based tablet PCs with U.S. OEMs, she said, declining to provide additional details.

While Intel’s tablet PC presence is increasing, tablet PCs represent a small portion of the market for mobile PCs, which includes notebooks and personal digital assistants, she said.

The adoption of Linux-based tablet PCs will also encourage OEMs to adopt the Crusoe chip, Enderle said. Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, is a fellow at Transmeta, and the Crusoe chips are tuned for fast performance with the open-source operating system, he said. First International Computer Inc. in Taipei released a tablet PC last year using Crusoe processors and Transmeta’s Midori Linux operating system, and Frontpath’s tablet PC also runs on the Linux operating system.

Transmeta announced Wednesday it will release a 256-bit microprocessor later this year, the TM8000. Ditzel declined to comment on whether the TM8000 could work with the Evo Tablet PC.

Transmeta posted a net loss of US$30.9 million in the first quarter of 2002, on US$4.1 million in revenue and US$18 million in research and development costs.