Transmeta releases embedded Crusoe processors

Transmeta Corp. released six new processors for embedded systems such as point-of-sale terminals and industrial automation devices Monday, focusing on an energy-efficient design that alleviates the need for a cooling fan within the device.

Three different clock speeds will be available for the new Crusoe Special Embedded processors: 667MHz, 800MHz, and 933MHz, with standard-power and low-power models available at each speed, said Tom Lee, director of embedded business development for Transmeta. Transmeta’s other processors for notebook computers and Tablet PCs are also known as Crusoes.

Designers of embedded systems need to fit a relatively large amount of processing power into a small space, Lee said. The Crusoe SE processor regulates not only its clock speed but its power usage, independent of the operating system or application it is running, he said. This regulation happens 200 times a second, and allows the processor to apply only the amount of power needed to handle the current application, so power is not wasted and heat is reduced, he said.

Heat given off by powerful processors is a cause of concern for all hardware designers. But this is especially true in the embedded marketplace, where users are looking for reliable performance from small devices, such as cash registers at retail stores, Lee said.

Cooling fans can be prone to breakage and aren’t suitable for all types of embedded products, such as medical or industrial devices that must be airtight, he said.

The Crusoe SE is designed to operate at temperatures from zero degrees Celsius to 100 degrees Celsius, Lee said. The 933MHz chip uses a little less than 9 watts of power at maximum power, he said. The chip only uses maximum power during intensive applications, such as decoding a video stream, due to the power management feature, he said.

The new Crusoe SE processors are based on the x86 instruction set, also used by processors from rival chipmakers Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Any applications for embedded systems developed on those processors will therefore run on the Crusoe chip.

Transmeta has sought to carve out a niche in the mobile processor market with a low-power Crusoe chip that has been popular in notebooks sold to users in Asia, notably Japan, but has failed to capture significant market share in North America and Europe. One of its Crusoe processors powers Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Tablet PC announced earlier this year.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company hopes the worldwide market for embedded devices will help Transmeta diversify its market share outside of its traditional geographic strongholds, Lee said.

Several hardware and software companies will support the new processors, notably Microsoft Corp., Advantech Co. Ltd., and Gespac. Microsoft’s Windows XP Embedded operating system will support the Crusoe SE processor, it said in a Transmeta release. Advantech, based in Taiwan and Gespac, based in Switzerland, are manufacturers of embedded hardware, and plan to have products out later in 2003, Lee said.

Samples of the Crusoe SE are shipping to device manufacturers now. The base price for the 667MHz chip will be under US$50, with a small premium paid for the low-power model, Lee said.