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Sharp snubs Transmeta for U.S. notebook

The company already uses Transmeta processors in mini-notebooks in Japan but will stick with Intel in the United States.

Sharp already uses Transmeta processors in mini-notebooks in Japan but will stick with Intel in the United States.

Sharp Systems of America, the U.S. division of the Japanese notebook giant, is incorporating an ultra-low voltage 600MHz Pentium III processor from Intel into its PC-UM20 and PC-UM10 mini-notebooks because of customer demand, a company representative said Tuesday.

"Our corporate clients just demand Intel," the representative said, adding that no plans exist to bring a Transmeta-based notebook to the United States.

Sharp's decision will likely be seen as a setback to Transmeta, which has been battling with Intel over design wins in notebooks for nearly two years. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip designer has been trying to encourage its manufacturing partners to bring notebooks containing its Crusoe chip to Europe and the United States.

To date, the company's chips have appeared almost exclusively in notebooks made and sold in Japan, which is mired deeply in a recession. Company executives and analysts attributed the steep drop in Transmeta's revenue--from $18.6 million in the first quarter to $5 million in the third quarter--to the Japanese economy.

"Transmeta gets these design wins with these Japanese (manufacturers). But when those notebooks come to the United States, they have an Intel chip," said Alan Promisel, an analyst with IDC. The swap hasn't happen every time, though. Sony has brought Crusoe notebooks to the United States,

For Sharp, bringing a Crusoe-based notebook to the United States would have been fairly simple. Sharp has already been selling a Crusoe notebook, the Mebius, in Japan since June.

Engineering-wise, Sharp's Transmeta and Intel-based mini-notebooks apparently are similar. The Mebius, the PC-UM20 and the PC-UM10 share the same basic chassis, a Sharp spokeswoman said. The difference between the Mebius and the others primarily revolves around the type of software included in the notebook and the keyboard language.

Still, windows of opportunity remain open for Transmeta, said Stacey Wu, an analyst at Mobile Insights. A recent survey from Mobile Insights showed that 78 percent of U.S. IT (information technology) managers and 85 percent of European IT managers would consider buying non-Intel processors when it comes to the mini-notebook category.

"The manufacturers' perception and the reality inside IT departments are not the same," she said. Transmeta notebooks have not taken off in the United States, she added, because mini-notebooks--the sub-category where Crusoe plays--have never been popular here.

The PC-UM20 mini-notebook, announced Tuesday, comes with the Pentium III, 256MB of memory, a 20GB hard drive and a 12.1-inch screen. The battery lasts nine hours, Sharp said. The $2,099 mini-notebook weighs under three pounds and measures 0.65-inch thick. The PC-UM10 comes with 128MB of memory.

Transmeta, which sells energy-efficient chips for notebooks and Internet appliances, helped highlight an increasing power crisis in the mobile market when it started promoting its first chip last year. In 2001, however, Intel came out with its own line of low-voltage chips--a move that has eaten away at some of Transmeta's previous advantages.

A Transmeta representative declined to comment on the Sharp-Intel deal but asserted that Transmeta's chips, which run at 667MHz and will soon go up to 800MHz, provide longer battery life and/or better mobile performance than Intel's processors. To save on battery power, both the Crusoe and ultra-low voltage Pentium III run at lower speeds when the notebook is unplugged. But the drop in speed for the Pentium III is far greater, the Transmeta representative said.

"The Intel (ultra-low voltage chip), though cleverly advertised at 600MHz, performs at a lowly 300MHz when mobile. This shows the amount of performance that has to be sacrificed to reach lower power levels with their transistor-laden architecture," a Transmeta spokesman said in an e-mail.