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Notebooks with Transmeta chip arrive in U.S.

Sony is shipping its Vaio C1 PictureBook, a 1-inch thick, 2.2-pound machine based on a 600-MHz Transmeta chip, giving chipmaking rivals Intel and AMD a run for their money.

The first laptops using the much-hyped Transmeta chips landed in the United States on Wednesday, and more are likely headed this way.

Tokyo-based Sony is shipping its Vaio C1 PictureBook--a 1-inch thick, 2.2-pound machine based on the 600-MHz Transmeta TM5600 Crusoe chip--to the States, according to Sony's Web site. Until now, notebooks containing Transmeta's chips have been released in Japan only, and in limited numbers.

Sony's


Gartner analyst Mark Margevicius says that although the Crusoe chip is a promising development for the IT industry, most people should wait before buying a Transmeta-based laptop and other Crusoe devices.

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release could be the beginning of a groundswell.

Hitachi plans to start selling its Flora series corporate PC using Transmeta chips next week in Japan. And there's a good chance it will come out in the United States, sources said. Gateway and America Online have also said they will come out with a Web-surfing appliance based on a Crusoe chip in the first quarter of next year.

IBM has demonstrated a Crusoe-based ThinkPad notebook, and sources have said the first ThinkPads with Transmeta chips could come as early as this quarter. NEC and Fujitsu have already introduced Transmeta-based notebooks in Japan.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Transmeta, which is competing with chip giants Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, plans on showing off a number of products based on its chips at the Comdex trade show in November. Intel and AMD are also working on chips that consume less power than their current products.

The Vaio notebooks that arrived in the United States on Wednesday were released in Japan Oct. 6. At the time, Sony executives in the States said they would come to the United States Oct. 25. A Sony representative did not return calls seeking comment on how many of the notebooks are available for sale, but Sony's online store listed the model as available and shipping immediately.

The C1 PictureBook sells for $2,299 and includes 128MB of memory, a 12GB hard drive and a built-in digital video camera.

Transmeta's Crusoe is an Intel-compatible processor that Transmeta claims consumes far less power than competing chips from Intel or AMD. As a result, Transmeta says notebooks based on its chips are thinner and lighter because they need less insulation and no fans. Because the chips eat up less power, they can also extend battery life in notebooks.

However, Transmeta's chips don't run the instructions aimed for an Intel chip directly. Rather, they use "code-morphing" software that translates the instructions into the Crusoe's native language.

It remains to be seen how closely Transmeta chips can mirror their Intel counterparts when running at the same clock speed. Analysts, for the most part, have said that they have not been able to independently verify Transmeta's claims because very few review units have been issued. The first glimpse of Transmeta notebooks that many analysts got occurred when Transmeta CEO Dave Ditzel showed off Sony and Hitachi models at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose earlier this month.

Riding a wave of investor interest, Transmeta has filed for an initial public offering. The company already has investments from AOL, Gateway, Compaq Computer, Sony and several major Taiwanese electronics manufacturers.