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NEC is third manufacturer to release Transmeta notebook

The company becomes the third major manufacturer to release a notebook PC containing Transmeta's Crusoe processor, as competition in the laptop market escalates.

NEC has become the third major manufacturer to release a notebook PC containing Transmeta's Crusoe processor, as competition in the laptop market escalates.

NEC unveiled a mini-notebook powered by a 600-MHz Crusoe chip at Tokyo time Tuesday at PC Expo Japan. A little over a week ago, Sony released the first Crusoe notebook in Japan and will follow it up with a notebook for the United States on Oct. 25. Fujitsu has also come out with a Crusoe notebook for Japan, according to a Transmeta spokesman.

Transmeta's Crusoe processor is compatible with operating systems and software designed for Intel or Advanced Micro Devices chips. The company says, however, that Crusoe consumes far less power than the Pentium III or other competing chips.

As a result, Transmeta notebooks promise to be thin and light--because they need less insulation and no fans--and capable of running longer than other portables on a battery charge. NEC, for instance, says its LaVie MX mini-notebook, which measures less than 1 inch thick, will run 11 hours on a single battery charge.

"They are trying to get into as many boxes before Intel turns its full and glaring attention on it," said Steve Leibson, editor in chief of MicroDesign Resources.

Although Crusoe has better battery performance than current Intel processors, the chip giant isn't sitting still. Last week, the company unfurled a new product road map for notebooks. Among the highlights, Intel will release a 700-MHz Pentium III that consumes, on average, less than a watt of power, and a 500-MHz Pentium III that consumes even less energy.

Some of the ideas for throttling power consumption on the Pentium family likely derive from Intel's experience with the Xscale, formerly StrongARM, processor. The entire ARM chip family runs at fairly high speeds without burning much energy. Intel acquired StrongARM from Digital in 1998 and in the past year has begun to dedicate more resources to developing the chip family.

"If they perceive Transmeta as a threat, they will make full use of technology available to them," Leibson said.

Exact comparisons remain difficult, however. Leibson, like many other analysts, has yet to test a notebook containing Crusoe. Many analysts, though, got their first close-up peek at Crusoe notebooks last week, when Transmeta CEO Dave Ditzel passed around the Sony notebook and an upcoming Hitachi model at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, Calif.

"They are clearly doing this as a way to keep up," Ditzel said of Intel's new product plans.

Like the notebooks released earlier, NEC's LaVie MX initially will be marketed only in Japan. The notebook contains a 20GB hard drive, 128MB of memory and a 10.4-inch screen.